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Global markets 11 Sep 2018

Wall Street: history, interesting facts and myths

From its early days, the fate of Wall Street has been marked by the ups and downs of North American history. It has seen a fair share of upheaval, such as the devastating market crash of October 29, 1929, which led to the Great Depression, or the collapse of Lehman Brothers, ten years ago. But, what are the origins of this financial center? And how did it grow to become the powerhouse that it is today?

Wall Street, a Hollywood beginning

In the 17th century, at the southern tip of the Manhattan Island, Dutch settlers established New Amsterdam, a fortified settlement that would later become New York. To defend themselves against the attacks of the Lenape Indians and the British, the colonists built a wooden wall along the northern boundary of the settlement, and named the adjoining street ‘Waal Straat.’ Today, the street that owes its name to this palisade, Wall Street, is the home to the New York Stock Exchange, or NYSE, and ‘Wall Street’ has become a metonym used to refer to New York’s financial district and the U.S. financial markets as a whole.

The New York Stock Exchange, everything began under a tree

But, when did Wall Street’s association with the financial world begin? In 1792, twenty-four brokers signed the agreement that would give birth to first incarnation of the NYSE. The agreement was named the “Buttonwood Agreement,” after the tree under which it was signed.

Not long after, the NYSE opened its first trading room, in a rented space at 40 Wall Street. Today the Stock Exchange is located at number 11 of the same street and has become the world’s largest stock exchange both by market capitalization and listed companies. Also, according to the Global Financial Centres Index, the New York Stock Exchange is also the world’s second largest financial center, after the London Stock Exchange.

Some interesting facts

  • The opening bell that signifies the start of the start of the day’s trading session in Wall Street is rung at 9.30 a.m. Eastern Time. The bell is rung again at the end of the trading session, at 4:00 p.m.
  • In May 2018, Stacey Cunningham became the first woman to run the NYSE in its more than 200 years of history.
  • The ‘Wall Street Journal’ one of the world’s most influential newspapers also owes its name to Wall Street. Until 2008 its headquarters was located at the heart of the financial district, very close to the stock exchange.
  • Wall Street’s symbol is a 7,000-pound bronze sculpture of a charging bull. The animal is depicted leaning back on hind legs and lowering its head as if ready to charge, as if to represent the strength of the Wall Street’s financial muscle.
  • The financial district is also home to another landmark building, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which hosts a vault containing the largest gold repository in the world, 80 feet before floor level.