FRED®, the St. Louis Fed's Force of Data

By Stierholz, Katrina | Review - Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Second Quarter 2014 | Go to article overview

FRED®, the St. Louis Fed's Force of Data


Stierholz, Katrina, Review - Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


No history of the St. Louis Fed would be complete withouta chapter on its leadership in providing economic data for the public. Today, this long-standing commitment to data service is encapsulated in one name: FRED®.

FRED, Federal Reserve Economic Data, is the St. Louis Fed's main economic database. It is used by hundreds of thousands of economists, other researchers, market analysts, journalists, teachers, students,and members of the general public. FRED began about 20 years ago as a modest service provided by pre-Internet technology. Since then, it has continued to flourish and expand significantly in size and scope, usability and functionality, and number of users. It is known and valued around the world in many different ways by people who care about the numbers driving today's regional, national, and international economies. FRED data have been incorporated into textbooks, blogs, social media, and research papers.

FRED'S Origins

FRED is a descendent of the data publications created by Homer Jones, the research director of the St. Louis Fed from 1958 to 1971. Jones believed in the benefits of making economic data widely available not just to policymakers but also to the general public, to allow them to judge for themselves the state of the economy and the outcome of policy. So he began publishing periodic reports on the latest economic data available.1

The "technology" available at the time was paper, so the data were printed and mailed through the U.S. postal system-at first to Jones's colleagues and then to a growing list of other interested subscribers. Eventually, the number of subscribers increased significantly, as did subscribers' reliance on the publications. St. Louis Fed employees from the 1970s and 1980s recall intense pressure to publish the Bank's main data publication, the weekly USFD {U.S. Financial Data). For example, reporters would repeatedly call the Bank each Thursday, the USFD's release day, asking for the data so they could publish them in the next day's newspaper.

Pam Hauck, a Fed employee who worked on these data publications, described the stream of inquiries they received by phone on release days:

The phone is ringing. "Got the data yet?""No, we haven't got it yet." "Got the data yet?" "No, we haven't got it yet." Finally, the data became available and then for literally three hours it seemed the phone was non-stop ringing... Reporters, economists, college professors, students, a lot of students...

FRED's Progress

The St. Louis Fed's data publications evolved into a high-profile service that soon included multiple series of monetary data, national economic data, and international economic data.These paper data publications also translated well to online posting when that technology became available.

FRED got its start in 1991 as an electronic bulletin board-a precursor to the internet. FRED offered "free up-to-the-minute economic data via modems connected to personal computers"; St. Louis Fed employees described the public's response as "staggering" and "overwhelming," with usage throughout the St. Louis area and places as distant as Vancouver, London, and Taipei.2

initially, FRED had 620 users who were given access to 30 data series that could be downloaded in ASCII (an early system of electronic code) at a modem speed of up to 14.4 bits per second. Users were allowed one hour of bulletin board use per day. Over time, data series from other St. Louis Fed publications were added, with more than 300 series available in 1993.

in the mid-1990s, FRED made the transition to the internet. It contained 865 data series by then and was accessed an average of 6,000 times per week. (At the time, there were only an estimated 12 million people using the internet.The St. Louis Fed provided a shared computer station for employees to access the Internet, but only those who had a business need to do so.)

FRED has evolved dramatically over the past 20 years: By 2004, FRED offered more than 2,900 economic data series and the ability to download data in Excel and text formats. …

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