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:
FRED recently added Internet usage data from the World Bank. The Internet was initially available only to the richest households who could afford both a computer and the connection. It has democratized considerably since, although the poorest still cannot afford it. The Internet was invented in the U.S., so it’s no surprise that its use became widespread in this country before it did elsewhere. The graph shows, however, that other countries have been catching up and even overtaking the U.S. It also shows that China and India are developing rapidly. At some point in the future, the Internet will be like refrigerators and televisions: Everyone will have access to it, except those who purposefully abstain from it.
How this graph was created: Search for “Internet” and the country name to find the series and then add it to the graph.
Suggested by Christian Zimmermann