The Dow Jones Industrial Average, also known as the Dow or DJIA, tracks 30 well-known, large companies that trade on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and NASDAQ. The Dow's all-time high was 31,613.02 points on Feb. 17, 2021.

An analysis of the historical data for the DJIA can help investors understand its all-time highs and downs.

The Dow's previous all-time high was 31,522.75 points on Feb. 16, 2021. The first time the Dow broke its pre-COVID-19 crisis high of 29,551.42 that it reached on Feb. 12, 2020, was on Nov. 16, 2020, when it hit 29,950.44.

The Dow finally broke the 30,000 mark when the uncertainty hanging over markets caused by the unprecedented refusal of President Trump to begin the transition of power to then-President-elect Biden was lifted when Trump began the transition process late on Nov. 23, 2020.

Key Takeaways

  • The Dow Jones all-time high of 31,613.02 points was on Feb. 17, 2021.
  • The biggest cumulative loss suffered by the DJIA was during the Great Depression, when it lost nearly 90% of its value between 1929 and 1932. 
  • The largest single-day drop by percentage happened in October of 1987, but the largest single-day drop by points happened in March of 2020.

Dow All-Time Highs

The DJIA has consistently hit new highs over the last decade or so. The longest bull market in history lasted approximately 11 years, starting on March 11, 2009, and ending on Feb. 12, 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused massive disruption throughout the world.

The DJIA hit several new highs in 2019, thanks in part to trade talks with China. The index hit 22 record closes in 2019. The Dow has a storied history, introduced in its initial form in 1885.

Dow All-Time Lows and Plunges

While the recent decade has shown strong economic growth, leading to plenty of record highs for the Dow, there have been significant plunges as well, both over periods of time and in dramatic single-day or single-moment drops.

Periods of Dow Jones All-Time Lows

Perhaps the most infamous cumulative period of hardship was during the Great Depression, in which the Dow lost about 90% over the course of just three years. It hit a low of 41.22 in 1932.

Since the Great Depression, the Great Recession of 2008 has been the most dramatic period of collapse for the DJIA. The market fell over 50% in just a year-and-a-half, due to the mortgage and credit crisis.

During the 2001 recession, the DJIA fell from 11,723 in Jan. 2000 to 9,796 in March 2001, falling 17%. The recession from 1973 to 1975 was also especially troublesome for the DJIA, falling 45% from its 1,051 peak in 1973 to just under 600 in 1974. The Dow Jones also lost 26.5% during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. 

Record Single-Day Dow Jones Drops

The largest single-day drop in percentage terms for the day was Oct. 19, 1987, when it dropped 22.61%. The biggest single-day drop in terms of points was March 16, 2020, when it fell 2,997.1 points.

Technology and the DJIA 

Calculation of the index has become more accurate over the years thanks to the help of technology and electronic trading. Before 1992, the index high was calculated using the intraday trading highs of each component stock, even though the highs for all 30 companies were likely not reached at the same time. This is known as the Theoretical Dow Jones Index.

In Jan. 1992, the Dow Jones calculation was changed to record the value of the index at 10-second intervals throughout the day, giving it a more realistic measure.

Though the calculation method has changed since the index was first calculated on the DJIA inception date of May 26, 1896, it is still looked to as a broad indicator of the strength of the U.S. stock market. As the Dow Jones Industrial Average tracks 30 of the largest U.S. companies, investors look to these new highs as signals of market strength.

Since the index was first recorded 125 years ago at 40.94, it has had a 6.9% annualized total return, adjusting for inflation with dividends reinvested, through Jan. 22, 2021. This shows that even if the Dow Jones sees drops along the way, there is growth for long-term investors.