On The Avenue

Wall Street Wonders: The Museum of American Finance Gala

by Wendy Sy Photographed by Elsa Ruiz
Friday, February 3, 2017

Why does finance matter? David J. Cowen, president and CEO of the Museum of American Finance can answer that question. Standing in front of the podium at Cipriani Wall Street on Wednesday night for the institution’s 2017 Gala, he said, “Finance can and does change lives. It is not just dark and mysterious and builds a barrier on walls to the average person, but we in this room know that finance is a beacon of light. It is the best tool for individual self improvement.”

The event kicked off earlier in the evening with cocktails across the street at, you guessed it, the Museum of American Finance. Guests mingled while sipping on cocktails and signature peach puree and prosecco-filled Bellinis, courtesy of Cipriani. In one corner of the space is the America in Circulation exhibit, where you learn about the history of transactions in the U.S., from early barter to digital currency, featuring the wide-ranging cash collection of Mark R. Shenkman. Directly across is the Hamilton Room—filled with notable documents, published works and 18th century financial instruments—where you can explore the history of how America’s first secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, became, well, Alexander Hamilton.

A seated dinner followed and the talk of the evening revolved around two finance-world superstars: Joe Ricketts, founder, former CEO and former chairman of the company now known as TD Ameritrade and Lawrence H. Summers, our nation’s 71st secretary of the treasury and president emeritus at Harvard University. Ricketts was honored with the Charles Schwab Financial Innovation Award for his leadership in the use of technology to revolutionize the financial services sector and Summers was honored with the Whitehead Award for Distinguished Public Service and Financial Leadership.

“I feel a special sense of pride in being able to help an event at the Museum of American Finance because I believe that it is extraordinarily important to remember history and to learn from it,” says Summers. “It is my conviction that the further forward you want to see, the longer back you have to look.”

The event raised over $1.2 million to support the Museum of American Finance, which was founded in the aftermath of the Crash of 1987. It currently hosts about 50,000 visitors annually and is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.

“This museum captures the history of the financial wellbeing of the United States—from the colonial times to the settlement of the west, to the industrial revolution to the technology revolution today,” says Ricketts. “Our society and our country would not be without finance.”


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