Searching for the greatest economic Groundhog Day story : Planet Money It's Groundhog Day, and once again, the eyes of the nation have turned to a small town in Western Pennsylvania. Every February 2nd, the only story anyone can talk about is whether or not Punxsutawney Phil will see his own shadow. If he does: six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't: spring is on its way.

This year, in a cruel twist of fate reminiscent of the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, two Planet Money hosts have found themselves facing a curse. They'll be trapped in this never-ending groundhog news cycle until they can find a new February 2nd story to tell...something that has nothing to do with one furry prognosticator... something that changed the economy forever.

So rise and shine campers, and don't forget your booties as we journey through a series of Groundhog Days past to try to find a historical scoop.

This show was produced by Dave Blanchard and edited by Sally Helm. It was engineered by Robert Rodriguez and Gilly Moon and fact-checked by Sierra Juarez. Planet Money's acting executive producer is Jess Jiang.

Subscribe to Planet Money+ in Apple Podcasts or at

Groundhog Day 2023

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SONNY AND CHER: (Singing) Then put your little hand in mine. There ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: OK, campers, rise and shine. And don't forget your booties 'cause it's cold out there today.

It's cold out there every day. What is this, Miami Beach?

Well, not hardly. But the big question on everybody's lips...

Their chapped lips.

On their chapped lips. That's right. Do you think Phil will come out and see his shadow?

Yep. As people gather for a ritual of studied absurdity, our furry forecaster prepares to tell us whether we're in for six more weeks of winter. In...



Wait, Erika, do you - is the radio talking to us?


It is. Is that Ailsa Chang?


MALONE: All Things Considered host?

CHANG: 'Tis I. Listen here. You have to save us because we are stuck in a news loop. Every February 2, we cover this groundhog, and no one remembers anything else from that day.

MALONE: Oh, that is - yeah, that is true.

BERAS: Yeah. I don't think I could tell you a single nongroundhog thing that's ever happened on February 2.

MALONE: Yeah, no. Phil sort of sucks the air out of the whole news cycle, doesn't he?

CHANG: I know. This is our curse. And you know what? Now it is your curse, PLANET MONEY, because we are stuck in this news cycle until you can find the perfect Groundhog Day story.

MALONE: Oh, like the movie "Groundhog Day." That's what we're doing? Where the guy wakes up in the same day over and over until he can break the mysterious curse.

CHANG: Yes. Yes. Yes. Exactly. And you know what? The only way to break this curse is for PLANET MONEY to find the perfect Groundhog Day story - something that has nothing to do with actual groundhogs, something that happened on some February 2, something that, like, changed the economy forever.

BERAS: Oh, no problem. We can bang this out right now.


MALONE: ...Slash-wiki-slash-February 2 - and badaboom (ph).

BERAS: Look who was born on Groundhog Day 1905. Happy birthday, Ayn Rand.

MALONE: So easy. So easy. Hello and welcome to PLANET MONEY. I'm Kenny Malone.

BERAS: I'm Erika Beras. And perhaps no birth has reverberated through the economy more than Ayn Rand.

MALONE: Author of controversial but influential texts.

BERAS: Muse, a former Fed chair, Alan Green...


SONNY AND CHER: (Singing) Then put your little hand...

MALONE: Uh-oh.

CHANG: I guess it looks like the Groundhog gods think there are plenty of Ayn Rand stories already.

MALONE: That is probably fair.

CHANG: I mean, listen; they're picky. And to be honest, I don't know exactly what they want. So sorry, I guess throw some more stories at the wall. And good luck.


BERAS: Hello and welcome to PLANET MONEY. I'm Erika Beras.

MALONE: I'm Kenny Malone. And today on the show - well, I guess - yeah. I guess that's what we're going to figure out here.

BERAS: Yeah. What important economic story happened on some February 2 in history? Any February 2.

MALONE: How hard could this be? We have thousands of years of February 2s. Surely our future selves won't regret signing up for this bizarre challenge, Erika.

BERAS: Sure...


SONNY AND CHER: (Singing) Then put your little hand...

MALONE: All right. All right.

BERAS: We get it.

MALONE: We get it.

BERAS: OK. Our mission - find a story about something that changed the economy forever, something that occurred on some February 2, any February 2 through history.

MALONE: We began our search with us.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: First, the news and Diane Dimond...

MALONE: The old NPR archives - February 2 from decades ago, so much groundhog coverage.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: ...According to the furry forecaster...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: ...Since 1887, every February 2...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: ...Weather-predicting groundhog...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #5: ...Punxsutawney Phil, the Pennsylvania groundhog...


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) ...Critter in his burrow of dreams, and he said, oh, springtime, is that you calling me?

BERAS: Of course, we had a groundhog song.

MALONE: On brand. Delightful. Not helpful, though, with the mission to find some nongroundhog Groundhog Day story. And so our team started Googling frantically. And then we met up with what we found.

Can we clap?


BERAS: Close-ish.

MALONE: All right. How's everybody doing? Has everybody - we've been doing nothing but researching for, like, three straight hours.

BERAS: Turns out our team had dredged up some interesting things.

MALONE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. February 2, 1709 - the real-life Robinson Crusoe was rescued from the real-life desert island or whatever.

BERAS: On February 2, 1876, baseball's National League was formed.

MALONE: PLANET MONEY producer Dave Blanchard told us that he'd been digging into local newspaper archives and discovered that, in 1952, there was a Groundhog Day heist in which a Chicago magician named Eddie Kotz (ph) was the victim of a very specific kind of magical robbery.

DAVE BLANCHARD, BYLINE: The list of thieved goods includes one rabbit, five opossums, one raccoon, two ferrets, three guinea pigs, 50 white rats and 25 homing pigeons.

BERAS: What?

MALONE: What? Were there possums in magic shows?

BERAS: That seems risky.

BLANCHARD: There were also four skunks, which the thieves did not steal, apparently, which was a wise decision.

MALONE: I mean, hello and welcome to PLANET MONEY. Today on the show, the black market for stolen magic possum?


SONNY AND CHER: (Singing) Then put your little hand...

MALONE: OK. You know, that's fair. It's as if, Erika, the groundhog gods know when we don't have enough material to keep stretching out a story.

BERAS: Very convenient.

MALONE: Yes, yes. And maybe the gods want something more obscure than just Google results. After all, the best PLANET MONEY episodes, they're a little deeper cut than just top-line Google.

BERAS: And then we thought, you know what's full of little-known stories from specific dates? Diaries.

MALONE: Diaries.

BERAS: What about diaries from important historical figures?

MALONE: And it wasn't long before we came across an article from Smithsonian magazine titled "John Quincy Adams Kept A Diary And Didn't Skimp On The Details."


BERAS: We needed the nonskimped details.

SARA MARTIN: Good afternoon. Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society - this is Sara.

MALONE: Hey, Sara. This is Kenny Malone from NPR's PLANET MONEY. We have a bit of a strange request for you if you're game.


BERAS: We asked Sara Martin if she could flip to some February 2 entries.

MALONE: What's the Quince (ph) up to?

MARTIN: Well...

MALONE: Could we call him the Quince? I don't - what's the nickname?


MARTIN: Well, we use acronyms, so we call him J.Q.A.

MALONE: All right, J.Q.A is good, too.

MARTIN: But the first one I can find - written on February 2, 1782. This is during the American Revolution. And so they are trying to win recognition from Russia. So a 14-year-old John Quincy Adams is at St. Petersburg serving as a secretary and interpreter on what became a failed diplomatic mission.

BERAS: And that's what this young boy is journaling about? That's amazing.

MALONE: Fourteen?

MARTIN: He was 14 years old.

MALONE: Pretty good. Pretty good. But I don't know. Like, what would the PLANET MONEY angle be here? I'm not...

BERAS: I don't know. Like, secret history of child labor during the Revolutionary War? Maybe? I don't know?

MALONE: I'm going to go with not really an economic story. But what about diaries from some of our most famous economists? Like, what were they up to on February 2?

BERAS: Adam Smith - couldn't find any diaries.

MALONE: Nah. Milton Friedman? Couldn't find much there.

BERAS: But then, there was David Ricardo, 1800s advocate for free trade, famous for classical theory of comparative advantage.

HUMBERTO BARRETO: But the other thing he did that people don't know about is that he just wrote an incredible number of letters. So his correspondence is unreal.

BERAS: This is Humberto Barreto. He is an economics professor who knows a lot about David Ricardo. And Humberto says he did find a letter dated February 2, 1822.

MALONE: And so we leaned in. What was it? What incredible economic insight was running through one of our greatest economic minds on that cold London Saturday?

BARRETO: Ricardo did write a letter complaining about a portrait that he had done of him, which has now become the image that everyone knows.

MALONE: Oh, no.

BARRETO: If you know Ricardo, you've seen this image.

MALONE: Oh, no.

BARRETO: If you don't know Ricardo, of course, you haven't.

BERAS: Yes. Ricardo was just complaining about a portrait.

MALONE: Yeah, although not the quality. The problem appeared to be that he didn't have the portrait yet.

BARRETO: I can read you the exact sentence if you wish.


BERAS: We need to hear this sentence.

BARRETO: He said, it is nearly two years since it was painted, and I have never yet seen it at my own house.

MALONE: I mean...

BERAS: Today on the show, the technological breakthroughs that brought the price of portraits down and democratize the selfie?


SONNY AND CHER: (Singing) Then put your...

MALONE: Oh, the fickle, capricious groundhog gods.


MALONE: What are you going to do?

BERAS: Truth be told, it was harder than we expected to find something that happened on February 2 that changed the economy forever. We started grasping at straws a little bit.

MALONE: Yeah, we were like - I don't know - February 2s on the New York Stock Exchange?


MALONE: Oh, look at that. There was a February 2016 opening bell rung by Ms. Piggy.


ERIC JACOBSON: (As Ms. Piggy) Bears, bulls - who needs them, Wall Street? You've got moi.

MALONE: Unfortunately, that was on February 1.

BERAS: Oh, bummer.

MALONE: So that we can't do.

BERAS: Then, we were like, OK, the Ayn Rand birthday story was a no. But look who else was born on February 2 - Shakira.

MALONE: You cannot argue with the economic impact of this.


SHAKIRA: (Singing) I'm on tonight. You know my hips don't lie, and I'm starting to feel it's right.

MALONE: Unfortunately, we also could not argue our way into a Shakira interview. So then, we called the next person on the Wikipedia birthday list who seemed like might actually take our phone call.

ADAM CHRISTOPHER: Yeah. My name is Adam Christopher. I am an author. I don't know what to say. I've never done this kind of thing before.

BERAS: So, Adam - he's a New Zealand-born sci-fi writer.

MALONE: I hope you don't mind that you are a backup plan to Shakira, who was also born on February 2.

BERAS: Yeah.

CHRISTOPHER: Yes, my birthday buddy. Every year, I wish her happy birthday on Twitter. She's never responded.

BERAS: This might be the year.

CHRISTOPHER: This will be it. This is it.

BERAS: Yeah.

CHRISTOPHER: She's going to say it.

MALONE: Anyway, yeah. Adam did get his first book deal on his birthday, which - technically, an economic event that happened on...


SONNY AND CHER: (Singing) Then put your...

MALONE: OK. Yeah, all right. That's fair. But look, it was not easy to find something. And when we thought all hope was lost...


MALONE: ...We saw it. It was a tiny thing - administrative paperwork, really - from February 2, 1897, that, I believe, we could argue changed the world forever.

BERAS: And made it more delicious - after the break.


MALONE: Our Groundhog Day quest had led us to one story and one place.

GALEN MOORER SR: Today, we've got butter pecan. We've got golden vanilla. We've got Fruity Pebbles cheesecake.

BERAS: Yes, an ice cream shop - Happy Day Dessert Factory in Pittsburgh. This is Galen Moorer Sr. His son, the junior, owns the shop. Galen Sr. manages it.

MOORER: We've got funfetti.


MOORER: We've got banana cream pie.

MALONE: And we are here because 126 Groundhog Days ago to the day, the U.S. issued a patent to an inventor who lived mere miles from this ice cream shop.

BERAS: His invention - the ice cream mold and disher, also known as one of the very first ice cream scoops.

MALONE: Which we explain to Galen Moorer.

MOORER: Oh, wow. I'm not even - I didn't know that at all.

BERAS: Well, why do you think you've never heard about him before?

MOORER: That's a good question. (Laughter) I don't want to use the words inconsequential. But something that's in such regular use as an ice cream scooper, you don't ever think of as, hey, where did this originate from? Where did it come from? It's such a simple, but yet necessary, invention.

BERAS: Simple, yet necessary, invention?

MALONE: I like it.

BERAS: Let's give it a try. Hello, and welcome to PLANET MONEY. I'm Erika Beras.

MALONE: And I'm Kenny Malone. Today on the show, how the humble ice cream mold and disher maybe arguably changed the world forever. Yeah? Not cut off yet. Let's do it.


BERAS: The year is 1896. Alfred Cralle is a 30-year-old Black man born in Virginia the year after the Civil War. He migrates to Pittsburgh, starts working as a porter at a drugstore in a hotel. The hotel serves ice cream, and Alfred notices that the way they serve the ice cream seems annoying, messy.

MALONE: Yeah, yeah. People were apparently taking, like, two spoons, normal spoons, and jamming one end of the ice cream and scraping it off with the other spoon. I mean, caveman behavior, Alfred probably thought.

BERAS: And so Alfred designed a scoopy-looking thing with a mechanical handle. When you squeeze the handle, it activates a kind of scraper that ejects the ice cream out of the scoop.

MALONE: It was the first ice cream scoop.


MALONE: OK, caveat here. Many places claim that this is the first, but there do seem to be at least one or two other patents before this one. But, like, one of those still required a spoon to empty out the scoop. The other one's closer, but maybe a little less elegant. So we're going to argue Alfred's was probably maybe the first truly modern scooper. Whatever. Don't worry too much about it. Let's keep going.


BERAS: Alfred Cralle's patent was approved on February 2, 1897 - Groundhog Day.


BERAS: Hi there. Can you hear me?

MOSSOFF: I can hear you fine. Can you hear me?

BERAS: I can.

MALONE: Adam Mossoff - law professor at George Mason University, patent expert, and knows a lot about how patents get turned into actual, you know, money.

MOSSOFF: You know, patents are property rights, and they, like all property rights, might lead to great success or may not.

MALONE: Property rights. And Adam gave us this comparison that I find really useful. He said, you know, a patent is just an idea sketched out and then legally tied to the inventor. And that really is kind of like somebody who say, you know, just owns a piece of vacant land.

BERAS: Yeah. Adam says vacant land isn't inherently a business. Its owner would have to figure out what to do with it.

MOSSOFF: They can sit and wait for the land to grow in value. They can lease it out and become a landlord. They can build a factory on it. They can build an office building on it. They can build a home. And then, they can sell that home.

MALONE: And if you think about the patent version of this - let's say you get a patent for an ice cream scoop - you still have to figure out how to turn that into a business.

BERAS: You could manufacture the thing yourself and sell it.

MALONE: You could lease your patent to a manufacturer.

BERAS: You could full-on sell your patent.

MALONE: Which brings us back to ice cream mold and disher inventor, Alfred Cralle. Now, reportedly, within days of getting his patent, Alfred had received letters from firms in Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, quote, "offering large inducements to him should he wish to sell his patent outright or on a royalty."

BERAS: But that's basically where our knowledge ends. It's unclear if he ended up selling the patent, if he made lots of money, no money. We really just don't know for sure.

MALONE: What we do know for sure is that the idea of the ice cream scoop freaking rules, Erika.

BERAS: Yes, it does. And as patent expert Adam Mossoff agreed, it is definitely an upgrade over a pair of spoons.


MALONE: Is it possible to overstate the productivity gains derived from the invention of the ice cream scoop?

MOSSOFF: I don't believe it's possible to overstate it because this is the key part of all great innovations - right? - is that they contribute - right? - to these little efficiencies in our life.

BERAS: And these little efficiencies in the economy.

MALONE: Back at the Pittsburgh ice cream shop, it was time to figure out just how much the humble ice cream scoop changed the economy forever. And we had devised a little experiment for shop manager Galen Moorer the senior.

BERAS: Would you say you're the best scooper who works here? Your son's not here, so you can say...

MOORER: (Laughter).

BERAS: You can tell us the truth.

MOORER: I would say I'm the most efficient.

MALONE: Which is perfect because efficiency is what we are here to test - specifically labor productivity, which is a technical economic term meaning, you know, output per worker. And the factors of this - they are, of course, things like the worker's skills, you know, management practices and technological change. That's what we need to test - the technological change that is Galen's ice cream scoop.

MOORER: (Laughter) OK.

BERAS: OK. Well, I have some tools with me.


BERAS: I brought a tool that Galen will have to use for our experiment. From my back pocket, I pull out what someone serving up ice cream might have used before the scooper was invented - a spoon, a tablespoon from my kitchen.

MOORER: (Laughter) I did not realize the spoon was going to be a party (ph).

BERAS: Oh, the spoon is a big part of this. OK.

MOORER: I already know how sloppy this is going to be, so I'm going to actually wear gloves.

MALONE: Gloves? That's five extra seconds. These spoons are already cutting into productivity.

BERAS: Now, with his modern scoop, Galen can make 11 scoops of ice cream in 30 seconds. By the way, the scoop has advanced since that earlier version. The newer ones don't need that scoop ejector piece?

MALONE: No, but look, any scoop is going to be faster than the old spoons. But to calculate our productivity gains, we do need to know how much faster they are.

BERAS: And so we stand in front of the hardest ice cream to scoop - butter pecan. Galen skeptically holds my kitchen spoon, and I start a 30-second timer.

Three, two, one, go. Scooping. One. That's two.

MOORER: ...When I'm doing this 'cause I can feel the spoon bending already.

BERAS: The spoon may not make it.

MOORER: (Laughter).

BERAS: In 30 seconds of spooning, I guess we'll call it, Galen makes five passable-looking ice cream balls of butter pecan. My kitchen spoon does not survive.

MOORER: The spoon is dead.

BERAS: The spoon is dead (laughter)?

MALONE: Now, five spoon scoops is not even half as much as Galen can do with a real ice cream scoop. That is an incredible increase in labor productivity that surely Galen's business benefits from.

BERAS: Could you imagine running this business without the ice cream scooper?

MOORER: Well, if my only alternative was a spoon, I seriously doubt that anybody would be in the ice cream business. No, I cannot imagine running this business without the ice cream scooper. You'd need more people because it'd be virtually impossible to keep up with the demand.

BERAS: Impossible to keep up with demand. Kenny, it seems pretty clear to me that we have made the case that the ice cream mold and disher changed the economy forever.

MALONE: Couldn't agree more, Erika. And if only there were one last person we could call to confirm whether or not the ice cream scoop is, say - I don't know - one of the maybe top 50 inventions that shaped the modern economy.

TIM HARFORD: Of course. I am the author of "50 Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy" and a whole bunch of other things.

BERAS: This is friend of the show Tim Harford.


MALONE: Well, Tim, we've got the book here. And, you know, I see the plow.



BERAS: I see plastics in here.

MALONE: I see a light bulb. Am I missing ice cream scooper?

HARFORD: Well, I really love the humble inventions that people overlook - the pencil, the brick...


HARFORD: ...Paper. Paper. Nobody gives - everyone talks about the printing press. Nobody gives paper enough credit.


HARFORD: But, yeah, you missed ice cream scoop because it's not there.

BERAS: Yeah. Tim's not buying this.


BERAS: There are economy-changing inventions. And some of the economists that study this stuff, they call those inventions general purpose technologies.

MALONE: Yeah. And those technologies tend to have three main characteristics. No. 1, they work their way into lots of nooks and crannies of the economy.

BERAS: No. 2, they themselves can easily be improved upon.

MALONE: Yeah. And then, No. 3, those inventions also improve other parts of the economy.

BERAS: And we tell Tim, look, ice cream scoops are everywhere. They've definitely been improved upon. And they make the food economy better.

HARFORD: I mean, don't get me wrong. That's good. And if I wanted to scoop ice cream, I'd be happier if I had an ice cream scoop than if I was just working with a regular spoon. But I'm not sure I'm going to call this a general purpose technology. I mean, it's not really everywhere in the way that - say, that nuts and bolts are everywhere.

MALONE: Oh, like, literal nuts and bolts.

HARFORD: Yeah, like, literal nuts and bolts. Or the wheel or...

MALONE: That's not a - wheel feels like a high bar.

BERAS: Yeah.

HARFORD: Or hinges. Or ball bearings is another one.

MALONE: It's a pretty good one.

HARFORD: There are all kinds of places where you don't expect them. Whereas ice cream scoops - where are they? - they're pretty much exactly where you expect them. They're kind of in spoon drawers and ice cream stores, and that's about it.

MALONE: OK. But, Tim?


MALONE: Imagine a hot Pittsburgh day...


MALONE: ...Line out of the ice cream door. If the ice cream scoop lets you serve twice as many customers, which then theoretically helps the ice cream shop make more money, which then theoretically allows the shop to charge us less per scoop - if the ice cream scoop theoretically gives us more and cheaper ice cream, tell us how this is not the 51st invention that shaped the modern economy.

HARFORD: Well, I mean, everything you've said is true. It's not exactly the light bulb, is it? Because, like, the...

MALONE: Oh, looks like we lost him there. Probably just a bad connection. I'm sure what he was going to say is the ice cream scoop's not the light bulb, but the ice cream scoop is really important because without it, would we have nearly as many standalone ice cream parlors? I think not.

BERAS: And so...


BERAS: ...In conclusion, in the aftermath of the Civil War, in the midst of the full-fledged Industrial Revolution as the gears of innovation shifted, what is possibly one of the greatest inventions ever received its patent on Groundhog Day 1897.

MALONE: The ice cream mold and disher, invented by Alfred Cralle, tells us so much about patents, about labor productivity, about, dare I say, who we are as human beings. And Groundhog Day after Groundhog Day, the ice cream scoop has made our lives so much sweeter.


SONNY AND CHER: (Singing) Then, put your...

MALONE: Oh, come on.

CHANG: Oh, thanks for trying, PLANET MONEY. I think you're going to have to do this again next year. And I guess I'm going to have to read this again. Here we go. (Reading) That's right, woodchuck chuckers. It's Groundhog Day. Get up, and check that hog. Come here, groundhog. This weather....

MALONE: Oh. Sorry, Ailsa. Let's do the credits, Erika.


MALONE: Do you listeners happen to know any weird, hidden stories that happened on a Groundhog Day that also happen to have even a vague economic angle that we can spin? Well, we're definitely going to need a lot of those for next year. Our future selves would love it if you'd email those ideas over to That's

BERAS: Today's show was produced by Dave Blanchard and edited by Sally Helm. It was engineered by Robert Rodriguez and Gilly Moon and fact-checked by Sierra Juarez. PLANET MONEY's acting executive producer is Jess Jiang. Special thanks to Dennis Tucker (ph), Heidi Wastweet (ph) and James Trout (ph).

MALONE: Tim Harford's podcast is called "Cautionary Tales." I will not vouch for any ice cream scoop opinions he has on that show. That's all I'm saying.

BERAS: I'm Erika Beras.

MALONE: I'm Kenny Malone. This is NPR. Thanks for listening.


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