Perhaps more than any other institution, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) serves as an instantly recognizable symbol of financial markets. The history of the exchange begins in 1792, when 24 bankers gathered under a Buttonwood tree in lower Manhattan and agreed to trade securities on commission. In 1817, the stockbrokers of New York operating under the Buttonwood Agreement adopted some key changes and reorganized as the New York Stock and Exchange Board, giving birth to the storied exchange.
More than two centuries later, electronic trading has diminished the role of NYSE floor traders, but the exchange’s headquarters at 11 Wall Street remains a well-known and prominent sight.
Below, in the first in a series of historic slideshows, images from the Museum of American Finance illustrate the evolution of the New York Stock Exchange between 1873 and the present day. Through wars and financial crises, trading has sometimes paused, but it has always endured.
Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo, 3, Photo 4, Photo 5 all courtesy of the Museum of American Finance. Photo 6 courtesy of the Associated Press.
1. A Railroad Panic Hits the NYSE: In 1873, a financial panic prompted by the failure of prominent bank Jay Cooke & Co. forced the New York Stock Exchange to close for 10 days. The bank made a big bet on financing a transcontinental connection for the Union-Pacific railroad line, but the railroad was beaten to the finish by another company.
2. NYSE as Conflict Brews in Europe: This is what the inside of the exchange looked like in 1917, the year Congress voted to declare war on Germany, thus entering World War I. While the U.S. waited to enter the war, the Great War had already impacted U.S. financial markets. Three years earlier, the conflict in Europe led the NYSE to shut down for more than four months beginning on the day Germany and Russian mobilized their armies. That was the longest closure in the exchange’s history.
3. What’s That Smell?! Around midday, a cylinder of tear gas was placed near an intake for the NYSE ventilation system. The exchange quickly cleared out as traders smelled the fumes, and no serious injuries were reported.
4. Rosie the….Stock Quoter?? During World War II, with many young American men fighting overseas, women went to work on Wall Street. Women in the NYSE Quotation Room, shown here, quoted stock prices to callers in less than a minute, according to a note on the back of the original photograph.
5. What a Difference a Half-Century Makes: In 1931 (top), quotation operators used to read out stock prices displayed on a wall-mounted mechanical system. By the early 1980s (bottom), electronic systems transmitted price and volume quotes instantly. During the 50-odd years between when the two photos were taken, average daily trading volume rose from 3 million shares to 170 million.
6. Trading Today: High-Tech, Automated, and (Almost) Always On: More recently, NYSE floor traders play less of a role, with an increasing amount of trading activity originating away from the trading floor. Still, the NYSE rarely closes its doors apart from national holidays and presidential funerals. This photo was shot when the Exchange was closed for two days after Superstorm Sandy struck New York. It was the first unexpected closure since September 2001, when Wall Street shut down for four days following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.