It all started in the early 1600s, when the Dutch had a colony called New Amsterdam on what is now Manhattan Island. Even then, it was a region devoted to commercial enterprises, with much trading taking place. And when the Dutch began to fear trouble from English colonies to the north, they built a wall to protect themselves. Unfortunately for the Dutch, the attack came by sea. New Amsterdam eventually became New York, and in New York City you'll now find Wall Street where the wall used to stand.

New York's commercial spirit flourished, as did the city itself. But Philadelphia was also thriving, and that's where America's first stock market was established, in 1790. The New York Stock Exchange, though, came soon after. Formally organized in 1817, the NYSE traces its origins to some traders meeting regularly under a buttonwood tree in 1792.

Today the term "Wall Street" often refers to the overall financial establishment. Much of the America's (and even the world's) financial institutions are based in New York on and around Wall Street, but you'll find many that are located elsewhere.

You'll gain more insights into the history of the American stock market in Peter Lynch's and John Rothchild's book Learn to Earn, and in Peter Bernstein's Capital Ideas: The Improbable Origins of Modern Wall Street. The NYSE website also has an interesting area detailing its history.

To learn more about investing Foolishly, visit our Fool's School and our Investing Basics area. Or check out some of our inexpensive and well-regarded online how-to guides, which come with money-back guarantees. You can also learn all about brokerages and find one that's right for you in our Broker Center. (Did you know that some well-regarded brokerages are offering commissions as low as $5?)