11 March 2006

Wall Street Journal Not Your Best Source for Genealogy

Today's edition of the Wall Street Journal had an article on Wrigley gum and how the founder of the company ran away from home at age 11 to live on the streets of New York and pull himself up by his own bootstraps. Not true, of course. Here is William Wrigley, Jr. living at home at age 18 and working as a salesman. According to the company, Wrigley is selling his father's soap.

I wonder if the WSJ fails to check out its other stories. Maybe just not those of people who (seemingly) overcome great odds to fulfill the American dream.

Last year there was a great multi-part series in the Journal on upward mobility in the U.S. and the lack thereof in recent times. It gave the example of a James Roberts who went from being the son of a day laborer in western New York in 1850 to being a bookkeeper in New York City 30 years later. Never letting an opportunity to check it out go by, I found that the bookkeeper was in fact the son of a wealthy landowner in Westchester County, NY. (To be fair, the professor who supplied the example has compiled excellent data on 19th century mobility. Yes, Dr. Ferrie, I checked out your data.)

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