Improving the Accessibility of the NBER's Historical Data

Daniel Feenberg, Jeffrey A. Miron

NBER Working Paper No. 5186
Issued in July 1995
NBER Program(s):Economic Fluctuations and Growth, International Finance and Macroeconomics, Monetary Economics

During the early years of its existence, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) assembled an extensive data set on all aspects of the pre-WWII macroeconomy. Until 1978, this data set existed only on the handwritten sheets to which the early NBER researchers copied the data from original sources. In 1978, the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) transferred the data to magnetic tape. A number of researchers have used the ICPSR tape, but two key problems discourage many from taking advantage of this unique data set. The first is that modern econometric software does not have the ability to read the obsolete ICPSR format. The second is that the process of transferring the data from the NBER's handwritten sheets to the ICPSR tape introduced a number of mistakes. We have eliminated these two impediments to the use of the NBER data set by converting the ICPSR tape to a portable format and by verifying the accuracy of the data using the NBER's original handwritten sheets. The data set is now available on the Internet and can be accessed using standard gopher or web-browser software.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5186

Published: Journal of Business and Economic Statistics, Vol. 15, no. 3 (July 1997): 293-299. citation courtesy of

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