Wall Street

Financial History (part one)


The name Wall Street has long been synonymous with financial markets.  Some have thought that the name was derived from the tall, close together buildings in the area that from some angles give the look of a narrow street enclosed by walls.  However, the origin of the name goes back to the 1650s.

At the time, New York was a very prosperous Dutch colony named Nieuw (New) Amsterdam.  Because of their prosperity and location in one of the world’s largest natural harbors, the colony was coveted by English colonies.  Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch governor of the colony, fearing a land attack from New England, decided to build a wall on the north edge of the town.  He ordered every able bodied man in the colony to assist in erecting sixteen-foot logs buried four feet into the ground.  The wall stretched from the shoreline on the east 2,340 feet to where the land fell off sharply to the Hudson River.

When the English did attack in 1664 they came by sea instead of by land.  Out flanked and not wanting to have their city –and their fortunes- destroyed, the merchants of the city signed a petition to the governor calling on him to surrender.  With reluctance, Stuyvesant agreed and the next day Nieuw Amsterdam became New York.

The wall, now useless, fell into disrepair and was eventually torn down in 1698.  It would likely have been no more than a foot note in history, except for the 100 feet of land next to the wall.  This was reserved for troop movement and no building was allowed.  This space was quickly utilized as a street and appropriately became known as Wall Street, one of the most famous thoroughfares in the world.

Wall Street first gained national fame not for financial reasons but for political ones.  On the second-floor balcony of what had been New York’s City Hall, George Washington took the oath of office as the first president under the new constitution on April 30, 1789.  That building was renamed Federal Hall and appropriated as a temporary capitol.   

Kimber Heaton is a Certified Financial Planner and the principle of HEATON FINANCIAL, a Registered Investment Advisor, and can be reached at info@heatonfinancial.com or 435-272-4362

Reference:  “The Great Game” by J. S. Gordon.  pps.  21-35