After the 1929 stock market crash, did investors really jump out of windows?

My father (who was 26 at the time of the Crash, once told me, “People jumped out of a window because
they lost 6 of their $7 million”.

To me, that suggests that they had no hope of holding on to what they had left.

1929 Stock Market Crash: Did Panicked Investors Really Jump From Windows?

It’s true that, as Galbraith says, “Contrary to popular lore, there was no epidemic of suicides—let alone window-jumpings—in the wake of the Stock Market Crash of 1929.”

But that’s just a headline, not comprehensive or deep history. The truth is a bit more complicated.

The myth appears to have started with no less than Winston Churchill reporting that he heard someone thudding to the street near where he was standing on Wall St. In 1929 he was already a well-known British politician, if no longer a cabinet member; he would get quoted and his words spread through newspaper syndication. That’s probably the source of Will Rogers’ famous line that the brokers had to stand in line to jump.

To my knowledge, no such body was ever identified and modern historians believe he was embellishing a story, since he himself lost a bundle.

Does that mean nobody committed suicide because of the Crash? The statistics don’t back up an “epidemic” of suicides. The reported numbers rose slightly where they rose at all. But.

We need to get down to the dull work of defining terms. The Crash merely started the Depression, which stretched on for a decade. The Depression was a long, slow grind. People went bankrupt in 1930, and 1931, and 1932, and… Some must have taken their lives in response. We don’t know who or even how many. Suicide was still fairly scandalous. It would have been covered up if at all possible. There are innumerable ways to commit suicide, most of them less gaudy and obvious than jumping out of a tall building. If suicides increased for reasons of money historians would have to investigate all deaths of the rich or formerly rich in that period, not a task that seems to have been done.

It’s good history to debunk the flashy myth. It would be even better history to go deeper. According to financial historian John Steele Gordon, psychologists say there’s no good evidence that suicides do increase in times of financial hardship. Not quite the same thing as saying that no one individual does. History is bottomless; we never know everything.

In Melbourne, the Great Depression was that internationally significant event that had some impact even here.

After the 1890s Melbourne property crash, at least a couple of people killed themselves, because it’s something you read about when reading Melbourne property history (sorry haven’t got cites to hand) “xxxx built Mansion yyyy (or developed suburb zzzz). He lost everything in the 1890s property crash, and killed himself by jumping of a bridge”

You don’t have to have been rich to have lost everything in the Depression. And then there was the Dustbowl …

Misread the question

This article does contain one other mistake (maybe) – the besmirched reputation of Harriet Metz Noble, which Cecil writes as “four previous husbands had all committed suicide. Just after Thanksgiving 1940 Livermore joined the club by shooting himself in the head.”

In 2015, a reporter from the Omaha World-Herald looked into this (since the Metz family was local). It turns out that the description was some sensationalism by Livermore’s biographers. In reality, Jesse Livermore was Harriet’s third husband. The first husband died of pneumonia, but not before he was divorced. The second and third husband (the latter was Livermore) died by suicide. And the fourth outlived Harriet and possibly even killed her after they were divorced.

Wow. Thanks for finding this. Like everyone else I wondered about Harriet, but was too lazy to chase it up.

I also noticed this line in the article:

Not a jumper and not 1929. Nevertheless, when I checked other contemporary newspapers they indeed blamed his losses in the stock market for his death.

It would be beyond human belief if no one committed suicide because of losses in the Crash and the Depression. The only questions are how many and how.

^ Reported

At least one business suicide seems genuine. Car and truck manufacturer Studebaker went bankrupt in March 1933, and its president, Albert Erskine, killed himself three months later. Erskine was heavily in debt.

In St. Louis, prominent brewer William “Billy” Lemp committed suicide in 1922, a direct result of his brewery empire suffering during Prohibition. (Four members of the Lemp family committed suicide at various times; along with several other tragic deaths this gave rise to the "Lemp curse.)

August Busch, Sr. another prominent brewer, committed suicide in 1934. That had nothing to do with either the Depression or Prohibition - he had been in chronically poor health. But it’s easy to look at the timing and guess there were financial problems.

The notion also made its way into cinema culture; in Titanic, Rose comments that Cal Hockley, the villain, “put a gun in his mouth” after the “stock market crash hit his interest hard.”

And they reference the factoid in the Borat 2 subsequent moviefilm.

In all fairness, Cal was wound pretty tight and probably also had “a lot going on” even before the crash, with losing Rose and surviving the Titanic sinking.