Wall Street, located in lower Manhattan, has become synonymous with the the US financial markets. Yet the history of the street goes back much further the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

Wall Street is a direct reference to a wall that was erected by Dutch settlers on the southern tip of Manhattan Island in the 17th century. The Dutch, located at the southernmost part of the island, erected a defensive wall to help keep out the British and pirates. Although this wall was never used for its intended purpose, years after its removal it left a legacy behind with the street being named after it.

This area didn't become famous for being America's financial center until 1792, when 24 of the United States' first and most prominent brokers signed the Buttonwood agreement that outlined the common commission-based form of trading securities. Some of the first securities trades were war bonds, as well as some banking stocks such as First Bank of the United States, Bank of New York and Bank of North America.

The NYSE came later. In 1817 the Buttonwood agreement—named so because the agreement occurred under a Buttonwood tree—was revised. The organization of brokers renamed themselves the The New York Stock and Exchange Board. The the organization rented out space for trading securities, in several locations, until 1865 when they found their current location at 11 Wall Street.

The American Civil War occurred between 1861 and 1865, which actually helped the financial district get going.

In 1869, the New York Stock and Exchange Board merged with a competing firm that sprang up called The Open Board of Stock Brokers. With financial trading still getting its footing, the merger helped solidify the NYSE as one of the major places to go and trade. Membership was capped to a certain number of members, and remains capped, although increases in member have occurred over the years. 

The 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing depression brought more government regulation and oversight to the US stock exchanges. Prior to this it was far less regulated, and after the crash politicians and the exchange realized more protocols had to be put in place to protect investors. 

The NYSE is the largest stock exchange in the world by market capitalization. The NASDAQ Stock Exchange, at 165 Broadway, is the second largest exchange. While many still think of Wall Street as the financial center of the world, that is starting to change. While many financial firms were formerly headquartered on Wall Street, many have chosen to locate elsewhere. Many high frequency trading firms have taken up residence in New Jersey, for example. With electronic trading and technological advances in communication, it is no longer a requirement for traders to be at or near the financial district.

While the street continues to house the physical building of the NYSE, the street has much more history than just that. The name of the street dates back to a wall built in the 17th century. As the NYSE and US financial markets continue to more forward, much more will be written about this historic street in the future.

To read more about the beginnings of Wall Street, see The Stock Market: A Look Back.

  1. Why Are Securities Held 'In Street Name'?

    Buying or selling securities through a broker means they're held in your broker's name. Read Answer >>
  2. How do I invest in the Nasdaq or the NYSE? Is it even possible? Would I want to? ...

    The Nasdaq and the NYSE are stock exchanges that trade securities. Nasdaq stands for National Association of Securities Dealers ... Read Answer >>
  3. Move from an OTC to a major exchange

    In order to move a company from over-the-counter market to a major exchange, a number of conditions must be met to being ... Read Answer >>
  4. What is the difference between the bond market and the stock market?

    The bond market is where investors go to trade debt securities, while the stock market is where investors trade equity securities ... Read Answer >>
  5. How is something "brought over the wall" in an investment bank?

    An analyst who lends his or her expertise to an underwriting department is said to have been "brought over the wall". In ... Read Answer >>
  6. What exactly is being done when shares are bought and sold?

    Most stocks are traded on physical or virtual exchanges. The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), for example, is a physical exchange ... Read Answer >>
Related Articles
  1. Insights

    The NYSE and Nasdaq: How They Work

    Learn some of the important differences in the way these exchanges operate and the securities that trade on them.
  2. Personal Finance

    How to Land a Wall Street Job Out of College

    Getting a job on Wall Street right after college can be difficult, but there are many paths that eventually lead to Wall Street.
  3. Insights

    7 Secrets Of Wall Street

    Wall Street brokers: They’re all millionaires, walking around New York in their fancy suits as they rake in the big bucks, right? Think again. Here are some Wall Street secrets that go against ...
  4. Personal Finance

    How To Get A Job On Wall Street

    There are many roads that lead to Wall Street, but here are some of the more direct routes.
  5. Investing

    Stock Exchanges Around The World

    We tell you about five of the most popular stock exchanges from around the globe.
  6. Insights

    Wall Street History: The NYSE Is Born, Bubbles Form

    This week in financial history saw the birth of the NYSE an attempt to destroy Microsoft, and much more.
  7. Personal Finance

    Which Financial Careers Pay The Most?

    There are many job that can be considered "working in finance" but some definitely pay more than others.
  8. Investing

    State Street Stock Trades Ex-Dividend Thursday

    State Street will send its dividend payment on April 18 to shareholders of record as of April 3.
  9. Investing

    Who Owns The Stock Exchanges?

    As M&A heats up among the exchanges, here's how the market currently looks.
  1. Main Street

    Main Street is a colloquial term used to refer to individual ...
  2. NYSE Amex Equities

    NYSE Amex Equities is an American stock exchange best known for ...
  3. National Stock Exchange

    National Stock Exchange could refer to either the first U.S. ...
  4. Little Board

    Little board refers to the former American Stock Exchange (AMEX), ...
  5. Admission Board

    An admissions board comprises representatives of a particular ...
  6. Tech Street

    A term used in the financial markets and the press to refer to ...
Hot Definitions
  1. Intrinsic Value

    Intrinsic value is the perceived or calculated value of a company, including tangible and intangible factors, and may differ ...
  2. Current Assets

    Current assets is a balance sheet account that represents the value of all assets that can reasonably expected to be converted ...
  3. Volatility

    Volatility measures how much the price of a security, derivative, or index fluctuates.
  4. Money Market

    The money market is a segment of the financial market in which financial instruments with high liquidity and very short maturities ...
  5. Cost of Debt

    Cost of debt is the effective rate that a company pays on its current debt as part of its capital structure.
  6. Depreciation

    Depreciation is an accounting method of allocating the cost of a tangible asset over its useful life and is used to account ...
Trading Center