The Ten Most Prosperous Thanksgivings

November 20, 2011 by Charles B. Stockdale

Thanksgiving is one of the few national holidays which is distinctly American, although there is a “Turkey Day” in Canada, too. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, but the history of the holiday is not terribly clear.

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24/7 Wall St. has set out to look at the most prosperous Thanksgivings in American history. We found that it was hard to compare what prosperity meant at the turn of the last century, when the U.S. was largely an agricultural society, compared to how the word is used in today’s industrialized world. Further, reliable government statistics before 1929 are difficult to find. We therefore chose to look at the “modern” era after the Great Depression.

We looked at several economic indicators used by the federal government to measure the health of the economy. None is sufficient to define prosperity, but taken together they provide a fair illustration of the state of the economy.

The ten most prosperous Thanksgivings are grouped into five periods: the mid-1940s, early-1950s, the mid-1960s, the late 1990s, and the period from 2005 to 2007. These time periods were characterized by innovation, high consumer activity and government policies that improved the average American’s life. They were — as is true with most periods of significant expansion — followed by recessions as has been the case in the last four years.

Whether the ten most prosperous Thanksgivings were the happiest cannot be told without peering into the windows of America’s homes. But during these years people had work and the blessing of living in a financially healthy country — one which supported an expanding economy that gave its citizens the promise of a financially stable future. These are the ten most prosperous Thanksgivings since the Great Depression.

1944 (Rank: 2nd)
Unemployment: 1.2%
GDP Expansion: 8.1%
GDP Per Capita (Inflation Adjusted): $14,705
Consumer Price Index: 1.7%

World War II leads to many scientific and technological innovations in American industry. Personal income generally increases, as average wages rise about 65% over the course of the war, and inflation is limited, leading to improved quality of life for many. President Roosevelt signs the “G.I. Bill of Rights,” providing vocational or college education, special loans and unemployment compensation for soldiers returning from the war. Unemployment, incidentally, is 1.2%, its lowest on record. On August 29th, 5,000 American troops march down the Champs-Elysees, celebrating the liberation of Paris, and marking a turn in the war on the European continent.

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1952 (Rank: 6th)
Unemployment: 3.0%
GDP Expansion: 3.8%
GDP Per Capita (Inflation Adjusted): $14,296
Consumer Price Index: 1.9%

The U.S. steel industry prospered during and after WWII, providing significant opportunities for employment and improved wages. Accompanying its success, labor unions push for better contracts. In 1952, the United Steelworkers of America strike against U.S. Steel and nine other steel companies, forcing President Truman to nationalize the industry. Shortly thereafter, the United States Supreme Court finds the President’s actions unconstitutional and the USWA ultimately receives most of the terms they are seeking. Also, a by-product of the steel industry, GM’s XP-122, renamed the Corvette after a fast warship used during WWII, is unveiled that year.

1953 (Rank: 9th)
Unemployment: 2.9%
GDP Expansion: 4.6%
GDP Per Capita (Inflation Adjusted): $14,710
Consumer Price Index: 0.8%

On March 26th, medical researcher Dr. Jonas Salk announces the discovery of a polio vaccine, scoring a huge victory against a horrible childhood disease. The first color television sets go on sale in December 1953 and the first issue of Playboy, featuring Marilyn Monroe on the cover, debuts. Disney’s Peter Pan premieres at the Roxy Theater in New York City on February 5.

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1965 (Rank: 7th)
Unemployment: 4.5%
GDP Expansion: 6.4%
GDP Per Capita (Inflation Adjusted): $18,576
Consumer Price Index: 1.6%

In January of this year, President Johnson delivers his “Great Society” State of the Union address, the goals of which are the elimination of poverty and racial injustice. The Temptations’ “My Girl,”  The Beatles’ “Help!,” “Ticket to Ride,” and “Eight Days A Week,” Sony and Cher’s “I Got You Babe,” and The Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” are all No. 1 on the music charts. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is completed in October.  Walt Disney announces plans for Epcot (later the Epcot Center), the “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.”

1966 (Rank 4th)
Unemployment: 3.8%
GDP Expansion: 6.5%
GDP Per Capita (Inflation Adjusted): $19,559
Consumer Price Index: 2.9%

The term “Black Friday” is coined after being originally used by local Philadelphia police frustrated with the massive crowds that gather in the city’s center to begin their holiday shopping. In February, the Dow Jones industrial average hits a record high of 995 points. Medicare, signed the prior year, goes into effect. Star Trek premieres on NBC, soon followed by the network’s first all-color lineup.

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1997 (Rank: 5th)
Unemployment: 4.9.%
GDP Expansion: 4.5%
GDP Per Capita (Inflation Adjusted): $36,102
Consumer Price Index: 2.3%

Madeleine Albright becomes the first female Secretary of State. The Dow Jones closes over 7,000 and 8,000 for the first time. Shortly after Steve Jobs returns as CEO of the troubled Apple Computer, Microsoft, then the most valuable company in the world, buys a $150 million worth of shares of the company.

1998 (Rank: 3rd)
Unemployment: 4.5%
GDP Expansion: 4.4%
GDP Per Capita (Inflation Adjusted): 37,238
Consumer Price Index: 1.6%

In 1998, the United States announces its first budget surplus in 30 years. The Department of Justice brings an antitrust suit against Microsoft, the same year as Windows 98 is released. Titanic, released in late 1997, becomes the highest-grossing film of all time in 1998 with over $1.8 billion in sales. America Online announces its intention to acquire Netscape Communications in a transaction valued at $4.2 billion. Daimler-Benz merges with Chrysler, forming Daimler-Chrysler — a $40 billion acquisition.

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1999 (Rank: 1st)
Unemployment: 4.2%
GDP Expansion: 4.8%
GDP Per Capita (Inflation Adjusted): $38,592
Consumer Price Index: 2.2%

On November 30, the ExxonMobil merger is completed, creating the largest company in the world. Bill Gates’ net worth exceeds $100 billion. Microsoft is ruled by a district judge as a “monopoly power.” Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is the highest grossing film of the year, and the fourth-highest grossing of all time. The DJIA closes above 11,000 for the first time. Ford Motors acquires Volvo. Napster begins functioning as a peer-to-peer music sharing site.

2000 (Rank: 8th)
Unemployment: 4%
GDP Expansion: 4.1%
GDP Per Capita (Inflation Adjusted): $39,750
Consumer Price Index: 3.4%

The NASDAQ hits an all-time high of $5,132 — the tech bubble doesn’t burst until after Thanksgiving. In November, Al Gore wins the popular vote against George W. Bush but loses the election. The U.S. dollar hits an all-time high against the euro. AOL purchases Time Warner for $162 billion in the largest merger in world history. Mission Impossible II is the highest-grossing film of the year, earning over $500 million.

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2007 (Rank: 10th)
Unemployment: 4.6%
GDP Expansion: 1.9%
GDP Per Capita (Inflation Adjusted): $43,801
Consumer Price Index: 2.8%

Rupert Murdoch acquires The Wall Street Journal. The minimum wage increases for the first time in a decade, rising from $5.15 to $5.85. Apple releases the iPhone. The Mega Millions lottery has a jackpot of $370 million, the highest ever. The last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is released and breaks the single day sales record for a book, selling 11 million copies.

-Charles B. Stockdale, Ashley C. Allen. Douglas A. McIntyre, and Michael B. Sauter