There are varying accounts about how the Dutch-named "de Walstraat" got its name. A generally accepted version is that the name of the street was derived from a wall (actually a wooden palisade) on the northern boundary of the New Amsterdam settlement, built to protect against Native Americans, pirates, and the British. A conflicting explanation is that Wall Street was named after Walloons— the Dutch name for a Walloon is Waal. Among the first settlers that embarked on the ship "Nieu Nederlandt" in 1624 were 30 Walloon families. The Dutch word "wal" can be translated as "rampart". However, even some English maps show the name as Waal Straat, and not as Wal Straat.
According to one version of the story:
The red people from Manhattan Island crossed to the mainland, where a treaty was made with the Dutch, and the place was therefore called the Pipe of Peace, in their language, Hoboken. But soon after that, the Dutch governor, Kieft, sent his men out there one night and massacred the entire population. Few of them escaped, but they spread the story of what had been done, and this did much to antagonize all the remaining tribes against all the white settlers. Shortly after, Nieuw Amsterdam erected a double palisade for defense against its now enraged red neighbors, and this remained for some time the northern limit of the Dutch city. The space between the former walls is now called Wall Street, and its spirit is still that of a bulwark against the people.
In the 1640s basic picket and plank fences denoted plots and residences in the colony. Later, on behalf of the Dutch West India Company, Peter Stuyvesant, using both African slaves and white colonists, collaborated with the city government in the construction of a more substantial fortification, a strengthened 12-foot (4 m) wall. In 1685, surveyors laid out Wall Street along the lines of the original stockade. The wall started at Pearl Street, which was the shoreline at that time, crossing the Indian path Broadway and ending at the other shoreline (today's Trinity Place), where it took a turn south and ran along the shore until it ended at the old fort. In these early days, local merchants and traders would gather at disparate spots to buy and sell shares and bonds, and over time divided themselves into two classes—auctioneers and dealers. Wall Street was also the marketplace where owners could hire out their slaves by the day or week. The rampart was removed in 1699.
Slavery was introduced to Manhattan in 1626, but it was not until December 13, 1711, that the New York City Common Council made Wall Street the city's first official slave market for the sale and rental of enslaved Africans and Indians. The slave market operated from 1711 to 1762 at the corner of Wall and Pearl Streets. It was a wooden structure with a roof and open sides, although walls may have been added over the years and could hold approximately 50 men. The city directly benefited from the sale of slaves by implementing taxes on every person who was bought and sold there.
In the late 18th century there was a buttonwood tree at the foot of Wall Street under which traders and speculators would gather to trade securities. The benefit was being in proximity to each other. In 1792, traders formalized their association with the Buttonwood Agreement which was the origin of the New York Stock Exchange. The idea of the agreement was to make the market more "structured" and "without the manipulative auctions", with a commission structure. Persons signing the agreement agreed to charge each other a standard commission rate; persons not signing could still participate but would be charged a higher commission for dealing.
In 1789 Wall Street was the scene of the United States' first presidential inauguration when George Washington took the oath of office on the balcony of Federal Hall on April 30, 1789. This was also the location of the passing of the Bill Of Rights. Alexander Hamilton, who was the first Treasury secretary and "architect of the early United States financial system," is buried in the cemetery of Trinity Church.
In the first few decades, both residences and businesses occupied the area, but increasingly business predominated. "There are old stories of people's houses being surrounded by the clamor of business and trade and the owners complaining that they can't get anything done," according to a historian named Burrows. The opening of the Erie Canal in the early 19th century meant a huge boom in business for New York City, since it was the only major eastern seaport which had direct access by inland waterways to ports on the Great Lakes. Wall Street became the "money capital of America".
Historian Charles R. Geisst suggested that there has constantly been a "tug-of-war" between business interests on Wall Street and authorities in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States by then. Generally during the 19th century Wall Street developed its own "unique personality and institutions" with little outside interference.
In the 1840s and 1850s most residents moved further uptown to Midtown Manhattan because of the increased business use at the lower tip of the island. The Civil War had the effect of causing the northern economy to boom, bringing greater prosperity to cities like New York which "came into its own as the nation's banking center" connecting "Old World capital and New World ambition", according to one account. J. P. Morgan created giant trusts; John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil moved to New York. Between 1860 and 1920, the economy changed from "agricultural to industrial to financial" and New York maintained its leadership position despite these changes, according to historian Thomas Kessner. New York was second only to London as the world's financial capital.
In 1884 Charles H. Dow began tracking stocks, initially beginning with 11 stocks, mostly railroads, and looked at average prices for these eleven. When the average "peaks and troughs" went up consistently, he deemed it a bull market condition; if averages dropped, it was a bear market. He added up prices, and divided by the number of stocks to get his Dow Jones average. Dow's numbers were a "convenient benchmark" for analyzing the market and became an accepted way to look at the entire stock market. In 1889 the original stock report, Customers' Afternoon Letter, became The Wall Street Journal. Named in reference to the actual street, it became an influential international daily business newspaper published in New York City. After October 7, 1896, it began publishing Dow's expanded list of stocks. A century later, there were 30 stocks in the average.
Business writer John Brooks in his book Once in Golconda considered the start of the 20th century period to have been Wall Street's heyday. The address of 23 Wall Street where the headquarters of J. P. Morgan & Company, known as The Corner, was "the precise center, geographical as well as metaphorical, of financial America and even of the financial world".
Wall Street has had changing relationships with government authorities. In 1913, for example, when authorities proposed a $4 tax on stock transfers, stock clerks protested. At other times, city and state officials have taken steps through tax incentives to encourage financial firms to continue to do business in the city.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the corporate culture of New York was a primary center for the construction of skyscrapers, and was rivaled only by Chicago on the American continent. There were also residential sections, such as the Bowling Green section between Broadway and the Hudson River, and between Vesey Street and the Battery. The Bowling Green area was described as "Wall Street's back yard" with poor people, high infant mortality rates, and the "worst housing conditions in the city". As a result of the construction, looking at New York City from the east, one can see two distinct clumps of tall buildings—the financial district on the left, and the taller midtown district on the right. The geology of Manhattan is well-suited for tall buildings, with a solid mass of bedrock underneath Manhattan providing a firm foundation for tall buildings. Skyscrapers are expensive to build, but when there is a "short supply of land" in a "desirable location", then building upwards makes sound financial sense. A post office was built at 60 Wall Street in 1905. During the World War I years, occasionally there were fund-raising efforts for projects such as the National Guard.
On September 16, 1920, close to the corner of Wall and Broad Street, the busiest corner of the financial district and across the offices of the Morgan Bank, a powerful bomb exploded. It killed 38 and seriously injured 143 people. The perpetrators were never identified or apprehended. The explosion did, however, help fuel the Red Scare that was underway at the time. A report from The New York Times:
The tomb-like silence that settles over Wall Street and lower Broadway with the coming of night and the suspension of business was entirely changed last night as hundreds of men worked under the glare of searchlights to repair the damage to skyscrapers that were lighted up from top to bottom. ... The Assay Office, nearest the point of explosion, naturally suffered the most. The front was pierced in fifty places where the cast iron slugs, which were of the material used for window weights, were thrown against it. Each slug penetrated the stone an inch or two and chipped off pieces ranging from three inches to a foot in diameter. The ornamental iron grill work protecting each window was broken or shattered. ... the Assay Office was a wreck. ... It was as though some gigantic force had overturned the building and then placed it upright again, leaving the framework uninjured but scrambling everything inside. -- 1920
The area was subjected to numerous threats; one bomb threat in 1921 led to detectives sealing off the area to "prevent a repetition of the Wall Street bomb explosion".
September 1929 was the peak of the market. October 3, 1929 was when the market started to slip, and it continued throughout the week of the 14th. In October 1929, renowned Yale economist Irving Fisher reassured worried investors that their "money was safe" on Wall Street. A few days later, on October 24, stock values plummeted. The stock market crash of 1929 ushered in the Great Depression in which a quarter of working people were unemployed, with soup kitchens, mass foreclosures of farms, and falling prices. During this era, development of the financial district stagnated, and Wall Street "paid a heavy price" and "became something of a backwater in American life".
During the New Deal years as well as the 1940s, there was much less focus on Wall Street and finance. The government clamped down on the practice of buying equities based only on credit, but these policies began to ease. From 1946-1947, stocks could not be purchased "on margin", meaning that an investor had to pay 100% of a stock's cost without taking on any loans. But this margin requirement was reduced four times before 1960, each time stimulating a mini-rally and boosting volume, and when the Federal Reserve reduced the margin requirements from 90% to 70%. These changes made it somewhat easier for investors to buy stocks on credit. The growing national economy and prosperity led to a recovery during the 1960s, with some down years during the early 1970s in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Trading volumes climbed; in 1967, according to Time Magazine, volume hit 7.5 million shares a day which caused a "traffic jam" of paper with "batteries of clerks" working overtime to "clear transactions and update customer accounts".
In 1973 the financial community posted a collective loss of $245 million, which spurred temporary help from the government. Reforms were instituted; the SEC eliminated fixed commissions, which forced "brokers to compete freely with one another for investors' business". In 1975 the Securities & Exchange Commission threw out the NYSE's "Rule 394" which had required that "most stock transactions take place on the Big Board's floor", in effect freeing up trading for electronic methods. In 1976, banks were allowed to buy and sell stocks, which provided more competition for stockbrokers. Reforms had the effect of lowering prices overall, making it easier for more people to participate in the stock market. Broker commissions for each stock sale lessened, but volume increased.
The Reagan years were marked by a renewed push for capitalism, business, with national efforts to de-regulate industries such as telecommunications and aviation. The economy resumed upward growth after a period in the early 1980s of languishing. A report in The New York Times described that the flushness of money and growth during these years had spawned a drug culture of sorts, with a rampant acceptance of cocaine use although the overall percent of actual users was most likely small. A reporter wrote:
The Wall Street drug dealer looked like many other successful young female executives. Stylishly dressed and wearing designer sunglasses, she sat in her 1983 Chevrolet Camaro in a no-parking zone across the street from the Marine Midland Bank branch on lower Broadway. The customer in the passenger seat looked like a successful young businessman. But as the dealer slipped him a heat-sealed plastic envelope of cocaine and he passed her cash, the transaction was being watched through the sunroof of her car by Federal drug agents in a nearby building. And the customer — an undercover agent himself -was learning the ways, the wiles and the conventions of Wall Street's drug subculture. -- Peter Kerr in the New York Times, 1987.
In 1987 the stock market plunged and, in the relatively brief recession following, lower Manhattan lost 100,000 jobs according to one estimate. Since telecommunications costs were coming down, banks and brokerage firms could move away from Wall Street to more affordable locations. The recession of 1990–91 was marked by office vacancy rates downtown which were "persistently high" and with some buildings "standing empty". The day of the drop, October 20, was marked by "stony-faced traders whose sense of humor had abandoned them and in the exhaustion of stock exchange employees struggling to maintain orderly trading". Ironically, it was the same year that Oliver Stone's movie Wall Street appeared. In 1995, city authorities offered the Lower Manhattan Revitalization Plan which offered incentives to convert commercial properties to residential use.
Construction of the World Trade Center began in 1966 but had trouble attracting tenants when completed. Nonetheless, some substantial firms purchased space there. Its impressive height helped make it a visual landmark for drivers and pedestrians. In some respects, the nexus of the financial district moved from the street of Wall Street to the Trade Center complex. Real estate growth during the latter part of the 1990s was significant, with deals and new projects happening in the financial district and elsewhere in Manhattan; one firm invested more than $24 billion in various projects, many in the Wall Street area. In 1998, the NYSE and the city struck a $900 million deal which kept the NYSE from moving across the river to Jersey City; the deal was described as the "largest in city history to prevent a corporation from leaving town". A competitor to the NYSE, NASDAQ, moved its headquarters from Washington to New York.
In 2001 the Big Board, as some termed the NYSE, was described as the world's "largest and most prestigious stock market". But when the World Trade Center was destroyed on September 11, 2001, it left an architectural void as new developments since the 1970s had played off the complex aesthetically. The attacks "crippled" the communications network. One estimate was that 45% of Wall Street's "best office space" had been lost. The physical destruction was immense:
Debris littered some streets of the financial district. National Guard members in camouflage uniforms manned checkpoints. Abandoned coffee carts, glazed with dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center, lay on their sides across sidewalks. Most subway stations were closed, most lights were still off, most telephones did not work, and only a handful of people walked in the narrow canyons of Wall Street yesterday morning. -- Leslie Eaton and Kirk Johnson of the New York Times, September 16, 2001.
Still, the NYSE was determined to re-open on September 17, almost a week after the attack. During this time Rockefeller Group Business Center opened additional offices at 48 Wall Street. The attack hastened a trend towards financial firms moving to midtown and contributed to the loss of business on Wall Street, due to temporary-to-permanent relocation to New Jersey and further decentralization with establishments transferred to cities like Chicago, Denver, and Boston.
After September 11, the financial services industry went through a downturn with a sizable drop in year-end bonuses of $6.5 billion, according to one estimate from a state comptroller's office. Many brokers are paid mostly through commission, and get a token annual salary which is dwarfed by the year-end bonus.
To guard against a vehicular bombing in the area, authorities built concrete barriers, and found ways over time to make them more aesthetically appealing by spending $5000 to $8000 apiece on bollards:
To prevent a vehicle-delivered bomb from entering the area, Rogers Marvel designed a new kind of bollard, a faceted piece of sculpture whose broad, slanting surfaces offer people a place to sit in contrast to the typical bollard, which is supremely unsittable. The bollard, which is called the Nogo, looks a bit like one of Frank Gehry's unorthodox culture palaces, but it is hardly insensitive to its surroundings. Its bronze surfaces actually echo the grand doorways of Wall Street's temples of commerce. Pedestrians easily slip through groups of them as they make their way onto Wall Street from the area around historic Trinity Church. Cars, however, cannot pass. -- Blair Kamin in the Chicago Tribune, 2006
Wall Street itself and the Financial District as a whole are crowded with highrises. Further, the loss of the World Trade Center has spurred development on a scale that had not been seen in decades. In 2006, Goldman Sachs began building a tower near the former Trade Center site. Tax incentives provided by federal, state and local governments encouraged development. A new World Trade Center complex centered on Daniel Libeskind's Memory Foundations plan is under development, the centerpiece of which is the 1,776-foot (541 m) tall One World Trade Center that opened in 2014. New residential buildings are sprouting up, and buildings that were previously office space are being converted to residential units, also benefiting from tax incentives. A new Fulton Center is planned to improve access. In 2007, the Maharishi Global Financial Capital of New York opened headquarters at 70 Broad Street near the NYSE, in an effort to seek investors.
The Guardian reporter Andrew Clark described the years of 2006 to 2010 as "tumultuous" in which the heartland of America is "mired in gloom" with high unemployment around 9.6%, with average house prices falling from $230,000 in 2006 to $183,000, and foreboding increases in the national debt to $13.4 trillion, but that despite the setbacks, the American economy was once more "bouncing back". What had happened during these heady years? Clark wrote:
But the picture is too nuanced simply to dump all the responsibility on financiers. Most Wall Street banks didn't actually go around the US hawking dodgy mortgages; they bought and packaged loans from on-the-ground firms such as Countrywide Financial and New Century Financial, both of which hit a financial wall in the crisis. Foolishly and recklessly, the banks didn't look at these loans adequately, relying on flawed credit-rating agencies such as Standard & Poor's and Moody's, which blithely certified toxic mortgage-backed securities as solid... A few of those on Wall Street, including maverick hedge fund manager John Paulson and the top brass at Goldman Sachs, spotted what was going on and ruthlessly gambled on a crash. They made a fortune but turned into the crisis's pantomime villains. Most, though, got burned – the banks are still gradually running down portfolios of non-core loans worth $800bn. -- The Guardian reporter Andrew Clark, 2010.
The first months of 2008 was a particularly troublesome period which caused Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke to "work holidays and weekends" and which did an "extraordinary series of moves". It bolstered U.S. banks and allowed Wall Street firms to borrow "directly from the Fed". These efforts were highly controversial at the time, but from the perspective of 2010, it appeared the Federal exertions had been the right decisions. By 2010, Wall Street firms, in Clark's view, were "getting back to their old selves as engine rooms of wealth, prosperity and excess". A report by Michael Stoler in The New York Sun described a "phoenix-like resurrection" of the area, with residential, commercial, retail and hotels booming in the "third largest business district in the country". At the same time, the investment community was worried about proposed legal reforms, including the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which dealt with matters such as credit card rates and lending requirements. The NYSE closed two of its trading floors in a move towards transforming itself into an electronic exchange. Beginning in September 2011, demonstrators disenchanted with the financial system protested in parks and plazas around Wall Street.
Wall Street investment banking fees in 2012 totaled approximately $40 billion, while senior bank officers managing risk and compliance functions earned as much as $324,000 annually in New York City in 2013.
On October 29, 2012,—ironically, the 83rd anniversary of "Black Tuesday," the culmination of the disastrous Wall Street Crash of 1929—Wall Street was disrupted when New York and New Jersey, an area not normally known as a hotbed of hurricane activity the way that areas much further south are, were blasted by Hurricane Sandy. Its 14-foot-high storm surge, a local record, caused massive street flooding in many parts of Lower Manhattan. Power to the area was knocked out by a transformer explosion at a Con Edison plant. With mass transit in New York City already suspended as a precaution even before the storm hit, the New York Stock Exchange and other financial exchanges were closed for two days, re-opening on Oct. 31. It was the first weather-related closing for the NYSE since Hurricane Gloria in September 1985 and the first two-day weather-related shutdown since the Blizzard of 1888.
Wall Street's architecture is generally rooted in the Gilded Age, though there are also some art deco influences in the neighborhood. The streets in the area were laid out prior to the Commissioners' Plan of 1811, a grid plan that dictates the placement of most of Manhattan's streets north of Houston Street. Thus, it has small streets "barely wide enough for a single lane of traffic are bordered on both sides by some of the tallest buildings in the city", according to one description, which creates "breathtaking artificial canyons" offering spectacular views in some instances. Construction in such narrow steep areas has resulted in occasional accidents such as a crane collapse. One report divided lower Manhattan into three basic districts:
- The financial district proper—particularly along John Street
- South of the World Trade Center area—the handful of blocks south of the World Trade Center along Greenwich, Washington and West Streets
- Seaport district—characterized by century-old low-rise buildings and South Street Seaport; the seaport is "quiet, residential, and has an old world charm" according to one description.
Landmark buildings on Wall Street include Federal Hall National Memorial, 14 Wall Street (Bankers Trust Company Building), 40 Wall Street (The Trump Building), 55 Wall Street (the former world headquarters of Citicorp), the New York Stock Exchange at the corner of Broad Street and the US headquarters of Deutsche Bank at 60 Wall Street. The Deutsche Bank building (formerly the J.P. Morgan headquarters) makes Deutsche Bank the last remaining major investment bank to have its headquarters on Wall Street.
The older skyscrapers often were built with elaborate facade, which have not been common in corporate architecture for decades; the nearby World Trade Center, built in the 1970s, was very plain and utilitarian in comparison. Excavation from the World Trade Center was later used as landfill for Battery Park City residential developments. 23 Wall Street, built in 1914, was known as the "House of Morgan" and served for decades as the bank's headquarters and, by some accounts, was viewed as an important address in American finance. Cosmetic damage from the 1920 Wall Street bombing is still visible on the Wall Street side of this building.
A key anchor for the area is the New York Stock Exchange. City authorities realize its importance, and believed that it has "outgrown its neoclassical temple at the corner of Wall and Broad streets", and in 1998 offered substantial tax incentives to try to keep it in the financial district. Plans to rebuild it were delayed by the events of 2001. In 2011 the exchange still occupies the same site. The exchange is the locus for an impressive amount of technology and data. For example, to accommodate the three thousand persons who work directly on the Exchange floor requires 3,500 kilowatts of electricity, along with 8,000 phone circuits on the trading floor alone, and 200 miles of fiber-optic cable below ground.
During most of the 20th century, Wall Street was a business community with practically only offices which emptied out at night. A report in The New York Times in 1961 described a "deathlike stillness that settles on the district after 5:30 and all day Saturday and Sunday". But there has been a change towards greater residential use of the area, pushed forwards by technological changes and shifting market conditions. The general pattern is for several hundred thousand workers to commute into the area during the day, sometimes by sharing a taxicab from other parts of the city as well as from New Jersey and Long Island, and then leave at night. In 1970 only 833 people lived "south of Chambers Street"; by 1990, 13,782 people were residents with the addition of areas such as Battery Park City and Southbridge Towers. Battery Park City was built on 92 acres of landfill, and 3,000 people moved there beginning about 1982, but by 1986 there was evidence of more shops and stores and a park, along with plans for more residential development.
According to one description in 1996, "The area dies at night ... It needs a neighborhood, a community." During the past two decades there has been a shift towards greater residential living areas in the Wall Street area, with incentives from city authorities in some instances. Many empty office buildings have been converted to lofts and apartments; for example, the office building of Harry Sinclair, the oil magnate involved with the Teapot Dome scandal, was converted to a co-op in 1979. In 1996, a fifth of buildings and warehouses were empty, and many were converted to living areas. Some conversions met with problems, such as aging gargoyles on building exteriors having to be expensively restored to meet with current building codes. Residents in the area have sought to have a supermarket, a movie theater, a pharmacy, more schools, and a "good diner". The discount retailer named Job Lot used to be located at the World Trade Center but moved to Church Street; merchants bought extra unsold items at steep prices and sold them as a discount to consumers, and shoppers included "thrifty homemakers and browsing retirees" who "rubbed elbows with City Hall workers and Wall Street executives"; but the firm went bust in 1993.
There were reports that the number of residents increased by 60% during the 1990s to about 25,000 although a second estimate (based on the 2000 census based on a different map) places the residential (nighttime and weekend) population in 2000 at 12,042. By 2001 there were several grocery stores, dry cleaners, and two grade schools and a top high school. There is a barber shop across from the New York Stock Exchange which has been there a long time. By 2001 there were more signs of dogwalkers at night and a 24-hour neighborhood, although the general pattern of crowds during the working hours and emptiness at night was still apparent. There were ten hotels and thirteen museums by 2001. Stuyvesant High School moved to its present location near Battery Park City in 1992 and has been described as one of the nation's premier high schools with emphasis on science and mathematics. In 2007 the French fashion retailer Hermès opened a store in the financial district to sell items such as a "$4,700 custom-made leather dressage saddle or a $47,000 limited edition alligator briefcase". Some streets have been designated as pedestrian–only with vehicular traffic prohibited at some times. There are reports of panhandlers like elsewhere in the city. By 2010 the residential population had increased to 24,400 residents with crime statistics showing no murders in 2010. The area is growing with luxury high-end apartments and upscale retailers.
Wall Street is a major location of tourism in New York City. One report described lower Manhattan as "swarming with camera-carrying tourists". Tour guides highlight places such as Trinity Church, the Federal Reserve gold vaults 80 feet below street level (worth $100 billion), and the NYSE. A Scoundrels of Wall Street Tour is a walking historical tour which includes a museum visit and discussion of various financiers "who were adept at finding ways around finance laws or loopholes through them". Occasionally artists make impromptu performances; for example, in 2010, a troupe of 22 dancers "contort their bodies and cram themselves into the nooks and crannies of the Financial District in Bodies in Urban Spaces" choreographed by Willi Donner. One chief attraction, the Federal Reserve Building in lower Manhattan, paid $750,000 to open a visitors' gallery in 1997. The New York Stock Exchange and the American Stock Exchange also spent money in the late 1990s to upgrade facilities for visitors. Attractions include the gold vault beneath the Federal Reserve and that "staring down at the trading floor was as exciting as going to the Statue of Liberty".
Finance professor Charles R. Geisst wrote that the exchange has become "inextricably intertwined into New York's economy". Wall Street pay, in terms of salaries and bonuses and taxes, is an important part of the economy of New York City, the tri-state metropolitan area, and the United States. In 2008, after a downturn in the stock market, the decline meant $18 billion less in taxable income, with less money available for "apartments, furniture, cars, clothing and services". A falloff in Wall Street's economy could have "wrenching effects on the local and regional economies".
Estimates vary about the number and quality of financial jobs in the city. One estimate was that Wall Street firms employed close to 200,000 persons in 2008. Another estimate was that in 2007, the financial services industry which had a $70 billion profit became 22 percent of the city's revenue. Another estimate (in 2006) was that the financial services industry makes up 9% of the city's work force and 31% of the tax base. An additional estimate (2007) from Steve Malanga of the Manhattan Institute was that the securities industry accounts for 4.7 percent of the jobs in New York City but 20.7 percent of its wages, and he estimated there were 175,000 securities-industries jobs in New York (both Wall Street area and midtown) paying an average of $350,000 annually. Between 1995 and 2005, the sector grew at an annual rate of about 6.6% annually, a respectable rate, but that other financial centers were growing faster. Another estimate (2008) was that Wall Street provided a fourth of all personal income earned in the city, and 10% of New York City's tax revenue. The city's securities industry, enumerating 163,400 jobs in August 2013, continues to form the largest segment of the city's financial sector and an important economic engine, accounting in 2012 for 5 percent of private sector jobs in New York City, 8.5 percent (US$3.8 billion) of the city's tax revenue, and 22 percent of the city's total wages, including an average salary of US$360,700.
The seven largest Wall Street firms in the 2000s were Bear Stearns, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup Incorporated, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers. During the recession of 2008–10, many of these firms, including Lehman, went out of business or were bought up at firesale prices by other financial firms. In 2008, Lehman filed for bankruptcy, Bear Stearns was bought by JP Morgan Chase forced by the U.S. government, and Merrill Lynch was bought by Bank of America in a similar shot-gun wedding. These failures marked a catastrophic downsizing of Wall Street as the financial industry goes through restructuring and change. Since New York's financial industry provides almost one-fourth of all income produced in the city, and accounts for 10% of the city's tax revenues and 20% of the state's, the downturn has had huge repercussions for government treasuries. New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg reportedly over a four-year period dangled over $100 million in tax incentives to persuade Goldman Sachs to build a 43-story headquarters in the financial district near the destroyed World Trade Center site. In 2009, things looked somewhat gloomy, with one analysis by the Boston Consulting Group suggesting that 65,000 jobs had been permanently lost because of the downturn. But there were signs that Manhattan property prices were rebounding with price rises of 9% annually in 2010, and bonuses were being paid once more, with average bonuses over $124,000 in 2010.
Versus Midtown Manhattan
A requirement of the New York Stock Exchange was that brokerage firms had to have offices "clustered around Wall Street" so clerks could deliver physical paper copies of stock certificates each week. There were some indications that midtown had been becoming the locus of financial services dealings even by 1911. But as technology progressed, in the middle and later decades of the 20th century, computers and telecommunications replaced paper notifications, meaning that the close proximity requirement could be bypassed in more situations. Many financial firms found that they could move to midtown Manhattan four miles away or elsewhere and still operate effectively. For example, the former investment firm of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette was described as a Wall Street firm but had its headquarters on Park Avenue in midtown. A report described the migration from Wall Street:
The financial industry has been slowly migrating from its historic home in the warren of streets around Wall Street to the more spacious and glamorous office towers of Midtown Manhattan. Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Bear Stearns have all moved north.
Nevertheless, a key magnet for the Wall Street remains the New York Stock Exchange. Some "old guard" firms such as Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch (bought by Bank of America in 2009), have remained "fiercely loyal to the financial district" location, and new ones such as Deutsche Bank have chosen office space in the district. So-called "face-to-face" trading between buyers and sellers remains a "cornerstone" of the NYSE, with a benefit of having all of a deal's players close at hand, including investment bankers, lawyers, and accountants.
In 2011, the Manhattan Financial District is one of the largest business districts in the United States, and second in New York City only to Midtown in terms of dollar volume of business transacted.
After Wall Street firms started to expand westward in the 1980s to New Jersey, the direct economic impacts of Wall Street activities have gone beyond New York City. The employment in the financial services industry mostly in the "back office" roles has become an important part of New Jersey economy. In 2009, the Wall Street employment wages were paid in the amount of almost $18.5 billion in the state. The industry contributed $39.4 billion or 8.4 percent to the New Jersey's gross domestic product in the same year.
The most significant area with Wall Street employment is in Jersey City. In 2008, the "Wall Street West" employment contributed to one third of the private sector jobs in Jersey City. Within the Financial Service cluster, there were three major sectors: more than 60 percent were in the securities industry; 20 percent were in banking; and 8 percent in insurance.
Additionally, New Jersey has become the main technology infrastructure to support the Wall Street operations. A substantial amount of securities traded in the United States are executed in New Jersey as the data centers of electronic trading in the U.S. equity market for all major stock exchanges are located in North and Central Jersey. A significant amount of securities clearing and settlement workforce is also in the state. This includes the majority of the workforce of Depository Trust Company, the primary U.S. securities depository; and the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, the parent company of National Securities Clearing Corporation, the Fixed Income Clearing Corporation and Emerging Markets Clearing Corporation.
Having a direct tie to Wall Street employment is problematic for New Jersey, however. The state lost 7.9 percent of its employment base from 2007 to 2010 in the financial services sector in the fallout of the subprime mortgage crisis.
Of the street's importance as a financial center, New York Times analyst Daniel Gross wrote:
In today's burgeoning and increasingly integrated global financial markets — a vast, neural spaghetti of wires, Web sites and trading platforms — the N.Y.S.E. is clearly no longer the epicenter. Nor is New York. The largest mutual-fund complexes are in Valley Forge, Pa., Los Angeles and Boston, while trading and money management are spreading globally. Since the end of the cold war, vast pools of capital have been forming overseas, in the Swiss bank accounts of Russian oligarchs, in the Shanghai vaults of Chinese manufacturing magnates and in the coffers of funds controlled by governments in Singapore, Russia, Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia that may amount to some $2.5 trillion. -- Daniel Gross in 2007
An example is the alternative trading platform known as BATS, based in Kansas City, which came "out of nowhere to gain a 9 percent share in the market for trading United States stocks". The firm has computers in the U.S. state of New Jersey, two salespersons in New York City, but the remaining 33 employees work in a center in Kansas.
Wall Street in a conceptual sense represents financial and economic power. To Americans, it can sometimes represent elitism and power politics, and its role has been a source of controversy throughout the nation's history, particularly beginning around the Gilded Age period in the late 19th century. Wall Street became the symbol of a country and economic system that many Americans see as having developed through trade, capitalism, and innovation.
Wall Street has become synonymous with financial interests, often used negatively. During the subprime mortgage crisis from 2007–10, Wall Street financing was blamed as one of the causes, although most commentators blame an interplay of factors. The U.S. government with the Troubled Asset Relief Program bailed out the banks and financial backers with billions of taxpayer dollars, but the bailout was often criticized as politically motivated, and was criticized by journalists as well as the public. Analyst Robert Kuttner in the Huffington Post criticized the bailout as helping large Wall Street firms such as Citigroup while neglecting to help smaller community development banks such as Chicago's ShoreBank. One writer in the Huffington Post looked at FBI statistics on robbery, fraud, and crime and concluded that Wall Street was the "most dangerous neighborhood in the United States" if one factored in the $50 billion fraud perpetrated by Bernie Madoff.
When large firms such as Enron, WorldCom and Global Crossing were found guilty of fraud, Wall Street was often blamed, even though these firms had headquarters around the nation and not in Wall Street. Many complained that the resulting Sarbanes-Oxley legislation dampened the business climate with regulations that were "overly burdensome". Interest groups seeking favor with Washington lawmakers, such as car dealers, have often sought to portray their interests as allied with Main Street rather than Wall Street, although analyst Peter Overby on National Public Radio suggested that car dealers have written over $250 billion in consumer loans and have real ties with Wall Street.
When the United States Treasury bailed out large financial firms, to ostensibly halt a downward spiral in the nation's economy, there was tremendous negative political fallout, particularly when reports came out that monies supposed to be used to ease credit restrictions were being used to pay bonuses to highly paid employees. Analyst William D. Cohan argued that it was "obscene" how Wall Street reaped "massive profits and bonuses in 2009" after being saved by "trillions of dollars of American taxpayers' treasure" despite Wall Street's "greed and irresponsible risk-taking". Washington Post reporter Suzanne McGee called for Wall Street to make a sort of public apology to the nation, and expressed dismay that people such as Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein hadn't expressed contrition despite being sued by the SEC in 2009. McGee wrote that "Bankers aren't the sole culprits, but their too-glib denials of responsibility and the occasional vague and waffling expression of regret don't go far enough to deflect anger."
But chief banking analyst at Goldman Sachs, Richard Ramsden, is "unapologetic" and sees "banks as the dynamos that power the rest of the economy". Ramsden believes "risk-taking is vital" and said in 2010:
You can construct a banking system in which no bank will ever fail, in which there's no leverage. But there would be a cost. There would be virtually no economic growth because there would be no credit creation. -- Richard Ramsden of Goldman Sachs, 2010.
Others in the financial industry believe they've been unfairly castigated by the public and by politicians. For example, Anthony Scaramucci reportedly told President Barack Obama in 2010 that he felt like a piñata, "whacked with a stick" by "hostile politicians".
The financial misdeeds of various figures throughout American history sometimes casts a dark shadow on financial investing as a whole, and include names such as William Duer, Jim Fisk and Jay Gould (the latter two believed to have been involved with an effort to collapse the U.S. gold market in 1869) as well as modern figures such as Bernard Madoff who "bilked billions from investors".
In addition, images of Wall Street and its figures have loomed large. The 1987 Oliver Stone film Wall Street created the iconic figure of Gordon Gekko who used the phrase "greed is good", which caught on in the cultural parlance. Stone commented in 2009 how the movie had had an unexpected cultural influence, not causing them to turn away from corporate greed, but causing many young people to choose Wall Street careers because of that movie. A reporter repeated other lines from the film: "I'm talking about liquid. Rich enough to have your own jet. Rich enough not to waste time. Fifty, a hundred million dollars, Buddy. A player."
Wall Street firms have however also contributed to projects such as Habitat for Humanity as well as done food programs in Haiti and trauma centers in Sudan and rescue boats during floods in Bangladesh.
As a figure of speech contrasted to "Main Street", the term "Wall Street" can refer to big business interests against those of small business and the working or middle classes. It is sometimes used more specifically to refer to research analysts, shareholders, and financial institutions such as investment banks. Whereas "Main Street" conjures up images of locally owned businesses and banks, the phrase "Wall Street" is commonly used interchangeably with the phrase "Corporate America". It is also sometimes used in contrast to distinguish between the interests, culture, and lifestyles of investment banks and those of Fortune 500 industrial or service corporations.
According to the discipline of anthropology, the term culture represents the customs, values, morals, laws and rituals which a particular group or society shares. In the public imagination, Wall Street represents economics and finance. However, although Wall Street employees may exhibit greedy and self-interested behaviours to the public, these behaviours are justified through their own value system and social practices. Various anthropologists have conducted research on Wall Street and it is their research which can confirm the negative views of Wall Street while providing the public with information that can contribute to a better understanding of how Wall Street workers perceive themselves. Anthropologist Karen Ho, who has conducted ethnographic research on Wall Street, states in Situating Global Capitalisms that the markets are beginning to self-regulate themselves in terms of neoliberalism. Through the perception of the public, financial investors take on a role that has already been established for them. It is both appropriate and fitting to call Wall Street a culture because of the system of values and practices it holds onto. Moreover, anthropological insight can help improve the general public's understanding of Wall Street and in turn allow the public to appreciate the culture of Wall Street which is both logical and sensible to the workers themselves.
Professor Katarina Sjöberg argues in The Wall Street Culture that within the media negative images of Wall Street are painted in terms of the district's market falls, money losses and deceitful gains. However, this is not what Wall Street investors are bothered by. Instead, it is the public's words and opinions which they feel mold their image. Sjöberg notes that in the American culture, money making is of utmost importance and knowing how to make money is considered to be respectable. Therefore, Wall Street investors prioritize their work as well as strive to climb the corporate ladder. They also feel obligated to maintain the image the public creates, because it strengthens their position as a Wall Street employee. They value seeing themselves as experts in their field, especially since they live in a society that values wealth. This justifies their acts of greed, and allows them to take part in activities often deemed as criminal because they feel as though it is expected. Moreover, they do not regret their actions because to them, it is part of being an American. Aside from living up to the public's image, Wall Street workers justify their high salaries with an argument pointed out by Karen Ho in Disciplining Investment Bankers, Disciplining the Economy: Wall Street's Institutional Culture of Crisis, the Downsizing of Corporate America. She argues that due to the fact that the financial market is volatile in conjunction with the existence of job insecurity, Wall Street workers are compensated through their salaries.
In Situating Global Capitalisms: A View from Wall Street Investment Bankers by Karen Ho, she interviews a banker who believes that working for Wall Street puts them at the top of the hierarchal ladder in society. The banker feels that everything goes through Wall Street, in terms of loans, investments, change or growth. From his point of view, Wall Street values are embedded in power. Similarly to Sjöberg's article, The Wall Street Culture, she states that as she was entering the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to conduct an interview, she was questioned by many employees regarding her purpose, how she gained access into their workplace without an appointment, and how she passed security. In their view, there is a "dividing line between 'us on the inside' and 'those on the outside'". These factors strengthen the power relations as well as establish a hierarchy between them as Wall Street employees, and the public.
Additionally, in Disciplining investment Bankers, Disciplining the Economy: Wall Street's Institutional Culture of Crisis and the Downsizing of "Corporate America", Karen Ho states that as we continue to learn more about Wall Street, we learn about each independent banker. As the banker brings their life experiences into the business, we can see the reasons for their actions. Each investor has a unique identity which contributes to the culture of Wall Street. Ideally, they live in the moment. However, job insecurity and the volatile nature of the market creates a constant state of fear within the investor. Therefore, they must organize themselves and follow a pattern to ensure security, profit and prosperity for the long run. Karen Ho wishes for us to see Wall Street through the lens of the everyday investor and banker, as well as understand the experiences and everyday situations that they must endure. Ho also believes that the individuals within the public can counteract the stereotypes and negativity that both the media and society associates with Wall Street by learning more about the personal experiences of the investors and their everyday lives. Similarly to regular wage earners, Wall Street employees are just trying to earn a day's pay. Their work is sometimes undervalued, because the public does not see them in this manner. Thus, Wall Street cannot be understood in black and white terms. One needs to understand that they have a value system which is not only logical to them, but also reflective of North America's values of individual power, prestige, and social practices based on individualism. For example, throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s Manhattan was a "white-only" community. Within that time period, there was a lot of racial segregation. The values of America and the social practices were not like they are today, so African Americans were not within the Wall Street community.Herman Melville's classic short story "Bartleby, the Scrivener" (first published in 1853 and republished in revised edition in 1856) is subtitled "A Story of Wall Street" and portrays the alienating forces at work within the confines of Wall Street.
Many events of Tom Wolfe's novel The Bonfire of the Vanities center on Wall Street and its culture.
The film Wall Street (1987) and its sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) exemplify many popular conceptions of Wall Street as a center of shady corporate dealings and insider trading.
In the film The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Bane attacks the Gotham City Stock Exchange. Scenes were filmed in and around the New York Stock Exchange, with the J.P. Morgan Building at Wall Street and Broad Street standing in for the Exchange.
The film The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) is a black comedy about Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker who ran the firm, Stratton Oakmont, that engaged in securities fraud and corruption on Wall Street from 1987 to 1998.
On January 26, 2000, the band Rage Against The Machine filmed the music video for "Sleep Now in the Fire" on Wall Street, which was directed by Michael Moore. The band at one point stormed the New York Stock Exchange, causing the doors of the Exchange to be closed early (2:52 P.M.). Trading on the Exchange floor, however, continued uninterrupted.
Many people associated with Wall Street have become famous; although in most cases their reputations are limited to members of the stock brokerage and banking communities, others have gained national and international fame. For some, their fame is due to skillful investment strategies, financing, reporting, legal or regulatory activities, while others are remembered for their notable failures or scandal.
With Wall Street being historically a commuter destination, a plethora of transportation infrastructure has been developed to serve it. Pier 11 at the foot of the street is a busy terminal for New York Waterway and other ferries.
The New York City Subway serves three stations under Wall Street:Wall Street at William Street (2 3 trains)
Wall Street at Broadway (4 5 trains)
Broad Street at Broad Street, with an entrance at Wall Street (J Z trains)
Motor traffic, particularly during working hours, is often congested but driving late at night and on weekends can be easier. The roads are not arranged according to midtown's distinctive rectangular grid pattern with staggered lights, but have small often one-lane roads with numerous stoplights and stop signs. The FDR Drive, East River Esplanade, and South Street run along the East River, and the Downtown Manhattan Heliport serves Wall Street.