The Wright Panic (1900)
Never underestimate the power of social pressure. Financier Whitaker Wright put pretigious figurehead names -- lords and ladies, mostly -- on the boards of directors of his companies. As a result, investing his firms became quite the social norm among the well-heeled. Unfortunately, while his companies looked solvent on paper, they were really only lending money to one another in order to balance the books. When the scheme became public, shares collapsed, leaving many of his posh pals penniless.
Fun fact: When Whitaker heard he'd been convited of fraud, he took cyanide pills and died within minutes.
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