Located at the intersection of Wall Street and Broad Street, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is by far the world’s largest stock exchange and is the symbol of American capitalism. The NYSE used to be open to public tours, but since the events of September 11, 2001, security around the Exchange building is very tight and public tours of the inside of the Exchange are no longer offered, with the exception of certain school groups and invited guests (see below for more information).
When you turn the corner to see the Broad Street side of the Exchange, you will be standing in a location of great historical significance. Prior to 1792, businessmen who engaged in trading of goods and money met under a tree to transact business. It was a sycamore tree but known more commonly as a buttonwood tree. Thus in 1792, when 24 stockbrokers signed an agreement that would regulate their dealings, they named it the Buttonwood Agreement. Twenty-five years later the members to the Agreement drafted an official constitution and the New York Stock & Exchange Board was born. In 1863 its name would be shortened in 1863 to the New York Stock Exchange.
Listen to Tour Guide Renee talk about the NYSE.
The first location of the NYSE was a room rented in a small for $200 a month in 1817 located at 40 Wall Street (now the location of the Trump Building, one of the top 10 skyscrapers in New York City.) When the original NYSE HQ’s were burned down in the Great Fire of New York (1835), the Exchange moved to a temporary headquarters and then again in 1865 moved to 10-12 Broad Street.
As the Exchange grew in business, a larger, grander building was needed. Construction of the current NYSE building began in 1901 and George B. Post was the architect (known for his neo-classical buildings around New York including the glorious Customs House at Bowling Green). It took two years to complete the Exchange and costs ran over the estimated price. In the end, the final cost was $4 million. R.H. Thomas, chairman of the Building Committee justified the what-was-then substantial amount of money by saying, “Where so many of our members spend the active years of their lives, they are entitled to the best that architectural ingenuity and engineering skill can produce.” Little could he know that a century later, the price of the building was no more than a typical trader’s end of the year bonus!
Above the columns is a pediment with a sculpture designed by John Q.A. Ward (who also designed the over-life-size standing statue of George Washington on the steps of Federal Hall diagonally across from the Exchange. Ward’s sculpture, called “Integrity Protecting the Works of Man” centers on the wing-hatted Mercury, the god of commerce. To her left are representations of mining and agriculture and on her right, symbols of industry, science, and invention, all sources of American prosperity.
THE TRADING FLOOR
Although you cannot visit the trading floor for security reasons, don’t feel too disappointed. It is no longer the chaotic scene we’ve become familiar with throw movies and TV shows, with traders waving slips of paper, yelling stock prices, and negotiating million dollar deals in a matter of seconds. Back in the 1980s, there were 5,500 people working on the trading floor. But with the advance of technology and paperless transactions, the number of traders on the ground has dwindled to a mere 700 people and is now a much calmer, quieter environment.
Click the image for the interactive 360-degree view of the main trading floor.
If you are missing the good old days, you can see what a typical day of trading used to be like by watching movies like “Wall Street” with Michael Douglas, “The Pursuit of Happiness” starring Will Smith and “Trading Places” starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy.
THE RINGING OF THE BELL
The ringing of the bell at 9 am and again at 4 pm is more than a gesture – it guarantees the marketplace that no trades will take place before the opening or after the close of the market. Starting in the 1870s, before microphones and loudspeakers were invented, used a large Chinese gong to let traders know to start or stop trading for the day. But in 1903, when the Exchange moved to its current building, the gong was replaced by a brass bell which is now electrically operated. Each of the 4 trading areas of the NYSE has their own bell which operates synchronously from one single control panel. You can see a detailed video history of the Exchange bell here.
STUDENT GROUP VISITS
Unfortunately, the NYSE can no longer accommodate private requests for visits by school groups.