MT: Emperor Norton of San Francisco

MT: Emperor Norton of San Francisco

Post by AN » Sat, 08 Jan 2000 04:00:00



                                                    Transcript No. 1894
                                                    January 6, 2000

                      EMPEROR NORTON OF SAN FRANCISCO
                             By Robert Leonard

     On January 8, 1880, a man fell dead on the streets of San Francisco.
He was so mourned that flags were flown at half staff and 30,000 people
attended his funeral.  For this was Norton the First, Emperor of the United
States.

     Joshua Norton wasn't always an emperor.  In 1849, he came to San
Francisco, where he established himself as a merchant.  During the Gold
Rush, food and supplies were expensive, since everything had to be
imported.

     And no merchant was as successful as Joshua Norton.  He and  his
partners began to buy cargoes from consignees even before the vessels
arrived in port.  This gave Norton much greater control over the market.
In 1852, he built the first rice mill on the Pacific Coast.  People began
to call him a genius and greet him on the street with a "How are you,
Emperor?"

     But late in 1852, Norton overreached himself.  He tried to corner the
supply of rice, but failed and was ruined.  After many lawsuits, he was
forced into bankruptcy.

     The years of litigation and his sudden poverty finally affected his
mind.  He once walked into a San Francisco newspaper office and handed over
a notice proclaiming himself Norton the First, Emperor of the United
States.  Remembering Norton's past kindnesses, the people of San Francisco
humored him in his delusion from then on.

     Friends paid his expenses for several years.  A Masonic Lodge paid the
rent on his rooming house "castle," and the city government bought military
uniforms for him.  During these years, Emperor Norton supported himself by
spending "Bonds of the Empire," which he had printed himself.  These notes
have Norton's portrait and signature.  They're quite rare today . . .
giving us just a brief glimpse of one of San Francisco's more colorful
characters.

     Today's program was written by Robert Leonard.  "Money Talks" is a
copyrighted production of the American Numismatic Association, 818 N.

http://www.money.org.

 
 
 

MT: Emperor Norton of San Francisco

Post by ELur » Sun, 09 Jan 2000 04:00:00


Much of the information was shown to be wrong in William Drury's "Norton I,
Emperor of the United States" Which was published by Dodd, Mead in 1986.

eric l.

 
 
 

MT: Emperor Norton of San Francisco

Post by RLWinnet » Wed, 12 Jan 2000 04:00:00


Quote:

>Much of the information was shown to be wrong in William Drury's "Norton I,
>Emperor of the United States" Which was published by Dodd, Mead in 1986.

>eric l.

Can you give any specifics?  This script on Emperor Norton was written from
several secondary sources, all published prior to 1986 I believe.  However,
they all tell essentially the same story.  (My recollection, without looking it
up, is that this script was edited by the ANA more than most.)

Robert Leonard

"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser:  teach a just man,
and he will increase in learning."--Proverbs 9:9

 
 
 

MT: Emperor Norton of San Francisco

Post by Padraic Bro » Wed, 12 Jan 2000 04:00:00


It's been several years since I read Drury's book, so I don't recall
specific details or dates.

The big picture presented in the script seems correct. J Norton was a San
Francisco merchant (originally came from South Africa); he did become
involved in cornering the rice market; failed at that and was eventually
ruined financially.  Some time after, he did proclaim himself Emperor and
I believe summoned the President and the Congress to SF. They didn't
oblige. He didn't take sides in the War, but was apparently displeased by
it. He did issue his proclamations through one of the papers - though
other papers issued their own fake proclamations. His expences were indeed
paid for by former business friends and such - though more out of business
sense than out of pity. Business sense? Yes - he was something of a
Character in mid 19th century America and also something of a tourist
attraction at San Francisco, so it was a in their interests to keep him
"well kept" but never the less on the street where his insanity could
keep the dollars rolling in. Many businesses claimed to operate under
Imperial pleasure (whether Norton granted such license or not). He did
issue his own currency, I believe in the form of interest bearing notes,
which he sold to tourists.

The most glaring errors were that before his insanity, people didn't
address him as Emperor; and his title wasn't just "Emperor of the United
States", but rather "Emperor of the United States and Protector of
Mexico". I'd have to reread the book before saying too much more. If you
can, find the book. It is a good read.

Padraic.

: >
: >Much of the information was shown to be wrong in William Drury's "Norton I,
: >Emperor of the United States" Which was published by Dodd, Mead in 1986.
: >
: >eric l.
: >

: Can you give any specifics?  This script on Emperor Norton was written from
: several secondary sources, all published prior to 1986 I believe.  However,
: they all tell essentially the same story.  (My recollection, without looking it
: up, is that this script was edited by the ANA more than most.)

: Robert Leonard

: "Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser:  teach a just man,
: and he will increase in learning."--Proverbs 9:9

 
 
 

MT: Emperor Norton of San Francisco

Post by RLWinnet » Wed, 12 Jan 2000 04:00:00


Quote:
>It's been several years since I read Drury's book, so I don't recall
>specific details or dates.

>The big picture presented in the script seems correct.(snip)

>The most glaring errors were that before his insanity, people didn't
>address him as Emperor; and his title wasn't just "Emperor of the United
>States", but rather "Emperor of the United States and Protector of
>Mexico". I'd have to reread the book before saying too much more. If you
>can, find the book. It is a good read.

>Padraic.

>: Can you give any specifics?  This script on Emperor Norton was written from
>: several secondary sources, all published prior to 1986 I believe.  However,
>: they all tell essentially the same story.  
>: Robert Leonard

Thanks for this clarification.  I found the claim that Norton was addressed as
"Emperor" prior to his insanity in only one source (a San Francisco newspaper
article, I believe) and didn't question it--though I see now that I should
have.  I threw it in because it was too good to pass up.  I think that I may
have shortened Emperor Norton's title myself to save words, which are precious
on these short scripts.

Robert Leonard

"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser:  teach a just man,
and he will increase in learning."--Proverbs 9:9