Wall Street is a street that spans eight blocks along Lower Manhattan in New York. The street homes one of the world’s most significant stock exchanges, the New York Stock Exchange or NYSE for short. However, Wall Street has transcended its status as a physical location and taken on a greater meaning.
Today, the name Wall Street represents not only the street but the entirety of the investment community. All stock exchanges, banks, and brokerages are often unified under the name, no matter where they are located. Surely enough, firms worldwide now possess the information once monopolized by the giants in Lower Manhattan.
Today we offer you a look at one of the hallmarks of American business, including some history and interesting particularities.
Why Wall Street?
Although you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Wall Street, few are aware of why it’s named as it is. In actuality, the naming convention is a bit of a mystery, as even experts can’t pinpoint which of the two circulating theories is correct.
The first, and perhaps slightly more boring explanation, is that Dutch colonists named the street after Walloons — a Belgian ethnic group. The Dutch world for Walloons is Waal, so the connection is quite clear.
There is, however, a more compelling explanation. It claims that the street was named after the walls that defended the settlers against Native Americans and the British. Allegedly, the Dutch broke a peace treaty they had with a Native American tribe, massacring them overnight. A handful of survivors spread the word, prompting returned aggression, and the need to erect a wall.
We might never find out which one of the two stories is closer to the truth. However, many people are more willing to believe the second one, perhaps due to it having a more grandiose scale.
Little Known Wall Street Facts
One of the biggest misconceptions about Wall Street, certainly due to being reinforced through various forms of media, is that the 1929 crash led to a surge in suicides. Many believe that traders that lost everything were jumping out of windows en masse. In total, however, there were only four cases of people taking their own life with links to the market drop.
Wall Street was also home to two significant moments in US history. Namely, the first presidential inauguration occurred on the balcony of Federal Hall, with George Washington taking the oath of office there. Additionally, the bill of rights was passed in the same place.
Lastly, a slightly more modern event is the fact that the rock band, Rage Against the Machine, recorded the music video for their song “Sleep Now in the Fire” in front of the NYSE. They had to lock the doors so the band wouldn’t interrupt the trading going on inside.
Wall Street Through the Years
Although Wall Street became a trading center early in its history, it only became a prominent trading center near the end of the 18th century. This event, which marks its rise to power, is the signing of the Buttonwood Agreement.
The agreement got its name from the buttonwood tree, where people would trade securities. In order to ease the trading process by ensuring proximity, as well as to iron out some irregularities and malicious practices, those trading signed the agreement.
A revision to the agreement came not long after, in which the broker association renamed themselves to The New York Stock and Exchange Board. As you can assume, that was the first step to what would eventually become the NYSE.
New York’s financial institutions kept growing steadily throughout the years, gaining worldwide importance. It was some time after World War I that they finally managed to overtake London. That marked them, and the entire city of New York, the most prominent financial center in the world. From there on, Wall Street’s history wasn’t a fortunate one. There was a bombing in 1920 which had a hefty death and injury toll, multiple crashes in the stock market, and of course, 9/11, which many Americans remember as the most significant tragedy during their lifetime. However, the street has managed to maintain its prestigious position despite all the hardship.