What is 'Wall Street'

Wall Street is a street in lower Manhattan that is the original home of the New York Stock Exchange and the historic headquarters of the largest U.S. brokerages and investment banks. The term "Wall Street" is also used as a collective name for the financial and investment community, which includes stock exchanges and large banks, brokerages, securities and underwriting firms, and big businesses. Today, brokerages are geographically diverse, allowing investors free access to the same information available to Wall Street's tycoons.

BREAKING DOWN 'Wall Street'

Wall Street got its name from the wooden wall Dutch colonists built in lower Manhattan in 1653 to defend themselves from the British and Native Americans. The wall was taken down in 1699, but the name stuck. The area became a center of trade in the 1700s, and in the late 1790s, publicly traded investments were issued. The New York Stock Exchange, the world's largest in terms of market capitalization, can trace its roots to this time and area. After World War I, Wall Street and New York City surpassed London to become the world's most significant financial center. Today, Wall Street remains the home of several important financial institutions. The New York Stock Exchange is still found on Wall Street, as is the American Stock Exchange, as are several banks and brokerages.

Financial Firms

Wall Street, when used as a metonymy, expands to institutions located around the world. While Wall Street is an important location where a number of financial institutions are based, the globalization of finance has led to institutions being established around the world. Also, in this reference, Wall Street is often shortened to simply "The Street." This moniker is often quoted in the media. For example, when reporting a company's earnings, the media may compare a company's revenues to what "The Street" was expecting. In this case, they are comparing the company's earnings with what financial analysts expected revenues would be.

Wall Street vs. Main Street

While Wall Street often refers to the global finance and investment community, it is often compared and contrasted to Main Street. "Main Street" is often used as a metonym for individual investors, small businesses, employees and the overall economy. Main Street is a common name for the principal street of a town where most of the local businesses are located. There is often a perceived conflict between the goals, desires and motivations of Main Street compared with Wall Street, with Wall Street representing big businesses and financial institutions, and Main Street representing the little guy and small businesses in general.

RELATED TERMS
  1. Main Street

    Main Street is a colloquial term used to refer to individual ...
  2. Bay Street

    Bay Street in Toronto is Canada's financial center and is often ...
  3. Street Expectation

    Street expectation is the average estimate of a public company’s ...
  4. Taking the Street

    Taking the street is the practice of quickly buying a dominant ...
  5. State Street Investor Confidence ...

    The State Street Investor Confidence Index measures institutional ...
  6. Elm Street Economy

    The Elm Street economy is an economic movement that encourages ...
Related Articles
  1. Financial Advisor

    Making It Big On Wall Street

    Read about some of the most glamorous Wall Street jobs and what it takes to land one.
  2. Personal Finance

    Morgan Stanley Introduces Four Weeks of Paid Vacation

    In the wake of falling bonus pools and loss of top talent to Silicon Valley, one of Wall Street's biggest names is introducing a paid four-week sabbatical.
  3. Personal Finance

    How to Get From Community College to Wall Street

    Community college doesn't offer an easy road to Wall Street, but it's not impossible.
  4. Investing

    How New York Became the Center of American Finance

    While New York is the undisputed center of American finance, it wasn't always that way. Here's a look at how the city achieved its dominant position.
  5. Insights

    Hamilton's Wall Street: What the Musical Didn't Tell You

    Wall Street's founder isn't just responsible for the good parts of American finance. Insider trading and speculative bubbles go back to the very beginning.
  6. Small Business

    How Effective Is The Chinese Wall?

    Because underwriters work on one side of the Chinese wall and analysts work on the other side, information gathered by the underwriters is not supposed to be shared with analysts.
  7. Investing

    Microsoft: Q1 Results Prompt Price Target Hikes

    Microsoft's strong cloud computing showing during fiscal Q1 prompts Wall Street applause.
  8. Insights

    New York's Economy: The 6 Industries Driving GDP Growth

    Learn about the six most influential industries in New York, the most economically productive city in the country, and home of Wall Street and Fifth Avenue.
  9. Investing

    Facebook: Strong Q4 Prompts Reiterated Buy Ratings

    A double-digit uptick in the amount advertisers will pay to run ads brought out the bulls.
RELATED FAQS
  1. How True Is 'What's Good for Wall St. Is Bad for Main St.'?

    Wall Street and Main Street have differing—and often competing—visions of their own interests. Read Answer >>
  2. 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 >>
  3. Who owns Dow Jones & Company?

    Learn how the purchase of Dow Jones & Company by News Corp. included the acquisition of The Wall Street Journal, Barron's ... Read Answer >>
  4. Who actually owns the Wall Street Journal?

    Lean why media magnate Rupert Murdoch's purchase of the Wall Street Journal is now regretted by the family that owned the ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center