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Wall Street to Main Street

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Wall Street to Main Street

Charles Merrill and Middle-Class Investors

Cambridge UP,

15 min read
9 take-aways
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Charles Merrill of Merrill Lynch made the American brokerage industry what it is today, an industry that reflects his vision and innovations.

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Charles Merrill is an authentic American genius and today’s capital markets bear his distinctive stamp in many ways, as Edwin J. Perkins’ book proves in fascinating detail. While the book works as a business history and as a professional portrait, it is less successful as a biography because Perkins deliberately chose to focus on Merrill’s professional life. By keeping Merrill’s personal life very much in the background, Perkins declines to bring Merrill’s personality to life. We learn about his career, but we do not seem to get to know the man himself. Happily, Merrill’s achievements and business innovations are well worth examining. His commitment to service, integrity and the good of the common customer - even when that angered the elite customer - made him richer than most of the aristocrats who fought against him. getAbstract recommends this worthy portrayal of a riveting role model to entrepreneurs, finance professionals and any business history buff.


In October 1939, just after the outbreak of World War II, semi-retired entrepreneur Charles Merrill agreed to rejoin his sleepy brokerage firm, Merrill Lynch & Company, on a full time basis. Charlie Merrill had once been one of Wall Street’s leading lights. He’d predicted the 1929 stock market crash and saved his clients millions of dollars in the process. He had then accumulated a vast personal fortune through the Safeway grocery chain. At 54, newly married for the third time to a beautiful young woman, seemingly content in his leisure, Merrill chose to take on the greatest challenge of his career. By the time of his death 17 years later, he had emerged as the most influential and innovative financial entrepreneur America has ever produced.

Charles Merrill was born in Florida in 1885, the eldest child and only son of a professional family. His father was a doctor and owned a drugstore. Charlie helped out in the store and showed a flair for figures and store management. He also learned how storeowners typically ran their businesses. He attended Amherst College for two years, where he found that his middle-class background and southern roots set him apart from the old-money...

About the Author

Edwin J. Perkins  is professor emeritus of history at the University of Southern California. He is an expert on the history of American financial services and has written five books, including a history of the New York banking firm, Brown Brothers Harriman. He has testified before the U.S. Congress about proposed reforms of outdated banking laws.

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