History Book


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, January 7th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book. Today, for the first, and only time in U.S. history, the national debt is paid off. That’s your first clue we’re talking about a date long, long ago. Plus, the anniversary of a landmark report on the health effects of smoking.

EICHER: But first, 260 years ago, the founding of America’s first life-insurance company. A group of Philadelphia Presbyterians started it, so you can be sure everything was done decently and in order. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today with January 11th, 1759:

RASMUSSEN: It hath been represented unto us, that the Presbyterian ministers in the Province of Pennsylvania have often seen the widows and children of such ministers very much pinched and distressed by want and poverty.

Kim Rasmussen reading the founding charter of “The Corporation for Relief of Poor and Distressed Presbyterian Ministers and of the Poor and Distressed Widows and Children of Presbyterian Ministers.” The mutual insurance company eventually becomes known simply as The Presbyterian Ministers’ Fund.

RASMUSSEN: A fund towards the relief of such Presbyterian ministers as shall be in want and deserving of support and relief. It would tend greatly to the relief of such persons and be a means to obtain some provision for removing their distress.

The Presbyterian Ministers’ Fund survived the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Great Depression. It acquired the Methodists Ministers Relief Insurance and Trust Association in the 1940s and changed its name to Convent Life Insurance Company in 1990. Today, it is part of the Nationwide family of companies—making it not only the nation’s oldest life insurer but also the oldest incorporated company in the country.

JAMES TAYLOR: [A Little Help From My Friends]

Next, January 8th, 1835. Democrat Andrew Jackson, America’s 7th president, pays off the $58 million national debt.

Debt nearly ruined Jackson in his 20s. And like Thomas Jefferson before him, he believed the national debt threatened the liberties of the American people. Yet many in government promoted investing in the national debt through the U.S. Federal Bank. Jackson said it corrupted the bank and made it too powerful.

So in 1833 President Jackson started removing federal deposits from the bank, and within two years paid off all U.S. financial obligations. Biographer H.W. Brands from a 2007 History Channel Documentary:

BRANDS: Jackson believed that the federal government ought to live within its means, just as an ordinary household did. And when he paid of the national debt, then he was able to go to bed that night with a great deal of satisfaction. Paying off the national debt was Jackson’s proudest moment as president.

The surplus was short-lived. The panic of 1837 and the resulting recession reversed the gains.

One-hundred years later, the national debt was $36 billion. Today, it stands at more than 21 trillion. That’s $66,761 for every man, woman, and child in the country.

SIXTEEN TONS: [Tennessee Ernie Ford]

And finally, 55 years ago, January 11th, 1964:

NBC: Now, here’s NBC News correspondent Frank McGee. This book, containing 387 carefully worded pages is a federal government report…

After more than a year of study, a presidential committee led by U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry, publishes its landmark report “Smoking and Health.”

TERRY: It is the judgment of the committee, cigarette smoking contributes substantially to mortality due to specific diseases and to the overall death rate…

Anti-smoking research wasn’t new, but the 1964 government report jump-started many widespread efforts to educate the public on the dangers of tobacco use.

COMMERCIAL: This is a smoking machine, it is used to test the nicotine and tar content of various brands of cigarettes…

A year after the government report, congress passed the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act—mandating warning labels on cigarettes. And in 1969, President Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act into law, banning radio and television cigarette advertisements.

COMMERCIAL:…for information, ask you heart association.

The initiatives largely worked. Harvard Medical reports 42 percent of the American population smoked in 1964. But in the 55 years since, the number of tobacco users has steadily decreased, to 18 percent today.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.


(Photo/NPR, Embassy Cigarettes)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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