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Celebrating 25 years: FRED’s oldest data

We’ve been celebrating FRED’s first 25 years on earth with some milestones and fun facts. Here’s one: This graph shows brick production in England and Wales, which is FRED’s oldest series, harkening back to 1785.

The time span of this series includes the British industrial revolution, when workers migrated from rural areas to urban centers to work in factories. Obviously, they needed housing. Better transportation infrastructure also allowed brickmakers to send their product over longer distances at lower cost, so bricks became common building material.

But what about all the spikes in production? It’s hard to know the precise causes, but consider this: By the early 19th century, London had become the largest city in the world; by the middle of the century, it had about 3 million residents. Other industrial cities boomed at different times, as well, including Leeds, Liverpool, and Manchester.

Suggested by George Fortier.

View on FRED, series used in this post: A02072GB37000A390NNBR

Celebrating 25 years: FRED was born of woman

FRED was born of woman. That may sound Shakespearean or even biblical, but it’s metaphorically true. Lora Holman, former St. Louis Fed research coordinator, brought FRED to life. FRED toddled around as a bulletin board service for a few years before Holman made a more ambitious appeal in the summer of 1995 to introduce FRED to the masses on the world wide web. She convinced senior management to take a chance on her baby, armed with an old computer running Linux, a dedicated ISDN line, and an upload process that involved magnetic tape.

FRED memo 1995

Holman described the reception from the public as “fantastic,” including numerous emails expressing gratitude and asking a variety of questions. And what parent isn’t proud to hear good words about their offspring? The good words poured in from many sources, including the New York Times, which called FRED “one of the snappiest of the Fed’s home pages.”

If Holman delivered FRED to the public, then George Essig raised FRED right, with plenty of attention and love and support. Essig, who’s on the St. Louis Fed Research web development team, was the first to work on FRED full time, in the year 2000. One of his many contributions was to store economic data in a database instead of text files, so the data could be queried and transformed. Others, such as Julie Knoll, also contributed a great deal of time, effort, and expertise.

We haven’t even mentioned this FRED graph yet, which adds a little flavor to FRED’s childhood story. It provides, with childlike simplicity, our decreasing birth rate and our increase in resources devoted to data technology.

Suggested by the FRED Team.

View on FRED, series used in this post: EXPEF518ALLEST, SPDYNCBRTINUSA

Celebrating 25 years: The dawn of FRED

In the dark ages (that is, before 1991), people called the St. Louis Fed directly to ask about the latest economic data. The staff of the Data Desk responded to questions and even sent data to people through the U.S. mail. Once they realized they could get good answers to their questions, people called regularly. The series shown in the graph above was one of the most popular at the time, owing to the fact that this rate was closely tied to mortgage rates.

All this contact with the public provided stronger motivation to make FRED widely available. So, FRED began as a dial-up bulletin board service in 1991, before the web became truly world wide and pervasive.


FRED eventually made it to the web, but only after much discussion, disagreement, and planning. Fun fact: The first web presence for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis was the FRED website.

Those who worked on the St. Louis Fed’s Data Desk at the time (including Monica Asselin, Russell Bischof, and Dennis Mehegan) tell us that bringing FRED online didn’t stop those phone calls from coming in. The graph below may show us why.

In 1995, when FRED first went online, less than 10% of the U.S. population had access to the internet. By 1996, that increased to 16.4%, which is a big jump but nowhere near the nearly 90% today.

Suggested by the FRED Team.

View on FRED, series used in this post: ITNETUSERP2USA, WGS5YR

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