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Superstar actor William S. Hart stumps for the Liberty Loan program (World War I war bonds) on the steps of the U.S. Sub-Treasury in New York City. The photograph is undated, and Hart participated in several bond rallies, but this is probably Thursday, October 3, 1918, at high noon.
8x10 glossy print from the collection of Hart's son, William S. Hart Jr. (1922-2004).
Hart Sr. refers to himself in the third person in an inscription he has hand-written on the back in pencil (see below):
William S. Hart on the steps of the U.S. Sub-treasury in New York City, where he made his most successful Liberty Loan speech to 50,000 people.
The print is also stamped on the back: "From Gerald C. Duffy, Director of Publicity, William S. Hart Productions Inc., Bates and Effie Streets, Hollywood, Calif."
Bond rallies were held daily, and Hart's appearance was eagerly anticipated. The New York Sun reported beforehand (October 3, 1918):
Mr. Hart has travelled all the way from California to begin a tour of the important Eastern cities in the interest of the Liberty Loan. His first appearance will be to-day at the Sub-Treasury, where, attired in full cow puncher regalia, from spurs up to sombrero, he will do his utmost to induce prospective Liberty Bond buyers to lend their dollars to the Government for victory.
"There are a few folks," said Mr. Hart last evening, "who need a little waking up about the loan. If I can put the alarm clock under 'em I'm going to.
"[...] I haven't come 3,000 miles to tell people they ought to buy bonds ... I've come to tell 'em they ought to buy now."
Hart was also expected to appear that evening and push bond sales at the Rialto Theatre on Broadway, where his new war movie, "The Border Wireless," was playing.
Afterward, the New York Sun reported on Hart's noontime speech (October 4, 1918):
Hart admonished his listeners to "Buy Liberty bonds until it hurts like hell."
"We are going to take the toot out of Teuton, and the best way to do it is with the toe of Uncle Sam's boot, which is already making Bulgaria ask for peace," he said.
If we're right about the date of the photograph, then Hart would be promoting the fourth bond series here. The fourth (of five) series of Liberty Loan bonds went on sale September 28, 1918. The fourth series involved $7 billion in tax-free bonds that earned the bearer an interest rate of 4.25 percent.
Or at least they were supposed to. Holders of Series 4 bonds were in for a bit of bad luck. Series 1-3 bonds were retired in the 1920s but Series 4 had a maturity date of October 15, 1938. The U.S. Treasury called them on April 15, 1934 and refused to honor their terms, which required payment in gold. The private ownership of gold had been banned by act of Congress nearly a year earlier, in June 1933. At the same time, the government had devalued the dollar from where it stood in 1918 — $20.67 per troy ounce of gold — to $35 an ounce. Thus, Series 4 bond holders lost 41 percent of their principal, or $2.866 billion in 1918 dollars.
WH1801: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photograph, ex-William S. Hart Jr. Collection, purchased 2020 by Leon Worden from Ray Frederick of Shelton, Washington.