Ask any American what comes to mind when they hear the term "Wall Street," and they will likely conjure up images of the most powerful financial institutions in the country. That's a well-deserved association, but the actual street in its lower Manhattan home has a deep and storied history that most of us are unaware of.
Knowing that, we asked our team of Motley Fool contributors to share with readers a little-known fact about the history of the street that most of us are not aware of. Read below to see what they had to say.
Brian Feroldi: It might surprise many Americans to learn that the area in lower Manhattan where Wall Street now resides was once controlled by the Dutch. The Dutch called their settlement New Amsterdam, and the road that now houses many of the country's most important financial institutions was originally known as "de Waal Straat." It was given that name as the Dutch once erected an actual wall where the road now sits to help protect their small colony against a possible British attack. At the time of its construction, the Dutch and the British were at war, and the settlers were worried that the fighting would spill over into the colonies, so they built the wall to protect themselves.
Fortunately for them, the wall was never actually used for its intended purpose, and a few years after its construction, it was demolished. However, the name "Wall Street" stuck, which is why we know the road by that name today.
The short road didn't become synonymous with the financial industry until years later, when local stock brokers of the day would meet under a small buttonwood tree on Wall Street to buy and sell securities. Over time, those brokers grew in power and influence and ended up signing the Buttonwood Agreement in 1792, in which they pledged to only trade securities with each other. That agreement gave birth to what we now call the New York Stock Exchange, which is still housed on Wall Street to this day.
Jason Hall: Wall Street was the site of one of the deadliest major terrorist attacks in American history nearly a century ago.
At 12:01 p.m. on September 16, 1920, a huge explosion was set off in front of the JP Morgan bank (now JPMorgan Chase) at 23 Wall Street, killing 38, seriously injuring at least 143, and causing minor injuries to hundreds more. The bomb was hidden in a horse-drawn wagon and consisted of a large amount of dynamite and hundreds of pounds of lead window sash weights. Debris from the explosion was scattered over hundreds of yards and caused more than $20 million in property damage in inflation-adjusted numbers.
The explosion launched shrapnel through the windows of buildings on both sides of Wall Street, injuring and even killing people inside the Morgan building, as well as causing damage to the U.S. Sub-Treasury and the Assay Office across the street.
Joseph Kennedy, father of John F., Robert, and Ted, was a stockbroker working on Wall Street at the time, and he was close enough to the explosion to be knocked to the ground by it. Change the timing of the explosion by mere moments, and Joseph Kennedy could have been killed before sons Robert and Ted -- major political figures in the U.S. for years -- were born. John F. Kennedy was born three years before the explosion.
Both the JP Morgan bank and the New York Stock Exchange, located only steps away from the explosion, were open for business on the next day. Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, and the case remains unsolved. If you visit 23 Wall Street today, you can still see shrapnel damage.
Evan Niu, CFA: The Wall Street bull statue is about as iconic as it gets. You might have thought the statue was commissioned by the city, like most public statues are, but you'd be wrong. It was actually installed overnight by SoHo artist Arturo Di Modica as guerilla art, way back in December 1989. No one knew it was coming -- the bull just showed up one morning in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
Because the 3.5-ton statue wasn't officially commissioned or sanctioned, the NYPD and the exchange had it removed since it did not have the proper permits and was blocking traffic at the intersection of Wall Street and Broad Street. Di Modica said the statue represented the "strength and power of the American people" and had worked on it for two years following the 1987 crash.
Fortunately, the public took a liking to it and was able to get the city to change its mind. Public officials then leased the bull and installed it permanently a few blocks south of its original placement, where it still sits today.