There’s a reasonable amount of conjecture in the markets right now about whether things are getting a bit overheated. Wiser minds than us have been vexed by the topic of asset price bubbles, so we’ll leave that to one aside.
But the current discussion about market conditions still led us to stumble upon what is surely one of the most interesting periods of market euphoria in America’s history: the 1961 boom (and subsequent bust) in ten-pin bowling stocks. (Hat-tip to Reuters, which highlighted the bowling bubble in its analysis this week).
And, this bubble doesn’t just tell us about market behavior, it also casts light on important changes in American society since then.
Bowling has been around in America since before the revolution: Versions of the pastime were brought across by Dutch settlers in the seventeenth century. But bowling really blossomed, particularly among blue-collar types, in the 1950′s and 1960′s after the introduction of the automatic pin setter. According to HighBeam Business research, the number of bowling alleys in America nearly doubled from 6,600 in 1955 to 11,000 by 1963. Over the same period, the number of people bowling in leagues increased from less than three million to seven million.
All of this ebullience was reflected in the stock prices of bowling companies such as Brunswick Corporation, which according to the Wall Street Journal (paywall) increased 1,590% between 1957 and its 1961 peak.