Over four centuries of American history, Wall Street has evolved into the marketplace of the world. Located in the heart of the Financial District in New York City, the intersection of Wall Street and Broad is home to some of the biggest financial exchanges. The world comes to trade on Wall Street with billions of dollars changing hands every business day. The term Wall Street has come to represent corporate America and in many ways is a reflection of the country’s financial health.
The New York Stock Exchange, NYSE, the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations, NASDAQ, and the former American Stock Exchange, AMEX, are the major securities exchanges on Wall Street. The AMEX was purchased and now operates as the NYSE Alternext US LLC. Though not on Wall Street, the International Securities Exchange operates out of its offices on nearby Broad Street. Along with the major stock exchanges, large investments banks, brokerage houses and even local street vendors call the Wall Street area home. Whether it is stocks, bonds, or a hot dog with mustard, commerce is king on Wall Street.
Wall Street and the surrounding financial district has roots in one of the oldest European settlements in the New World. The Dutch referred to their settlement on the southern end of Manhattan Island as New Amsterdam. New Amsterdam flourished during the middle part of the 17th Century though the Dutch were not the only folks interested in area. Neighboring Native Americans held rightful claim to the land and the British attempted several times to seize the settlement.
In response to these threats, the Dutch West India Company financed the building of stockades, walls and various other fortifications. Some historians believe that main fortress wall and stockades were the basis for the land plats and surveys conducted by the British after they eventually seized New Amsterdam. Modern Wall Street is thought to lie along the main fortress wall.
Development of the area around the intersection of Wall and Broad Streets commenced following the conclusion the Revolutionary War. As early as 1700 many fine buildings has been erected, including the Federal Hall building at 26 Wall Street. Federal Hall was destined to be part of history. In one of new country’s greatest moments, George Washington became the first President of the United States on April 30, 1789. Washington’s inauguration took place on a balcony overlooking Wall Street and was one of many historic events to take place on Wall Street.
During the early 20th Century, Wall Street became ground zero for a surge of financial activity. Believing that stock prices had nowhere to go but up, investors bought stock shares on margin. Buying on margin meant that investors needed only to put up 10 percent of the share price with the rest borrowed from the broker. The collapse of the stock prices in October 1929 left stockholders and stockbrokers alike awash in debt as financial markets went broke.
Still a bastion of free market capitalism, Wall Street remains the place where fortunes are made and fortunes are lost. Every workday, investors, speculators and traders wait for the opening bell that signals the start of the trading day. Prices for stocks and commodities can fluctuate literally on minute-to-minute basis. During the last decade, Wall Street was riding high on a wave of increasing stock values and record profits. The latter half of 2008 ushered in a period of records declines in stock prices, driving the value of the Market down by nearly 50 percent.
In spite of the potential for sharp declines and steep increases, Wall Street remains the place where the world comes to trade.