The Wall Street Crash of 1929, also known as the Great Crash or the Stock Market Crash of 1929, was the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States, taking into consideration the full extent and duration of its fallout.
The Roaring Twenties, the decade that led up to the Crash, was a time of wealth and excess, and despite caution of the dangers of speculation, many believed that the market could sustain high price levels. Shortly before the crash, economist Irving Fisher famously proclaimed, "Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau." The optimism and financial gains of the great bull market were shattered on Black Tuesday, when share prices on the NYSE collapsed. Stock prices fell on that day and they continued to fall, at an unprecedented rate, for a full month.
The October 1929 crash came during a period of declining real estate values in the United States (which peaked in 1925) near the beginning of a chain of events that led to the Great Depression, a period of economic decline in the industrialized nations.
In the days leading up to "Black Thursday", the market was severely unstable. Periods of selling and high volumes of trading were interspersed with brief periods of rising prices and recovery. Economist and author Jude Wanniski later correlated these swings with the prospects for passage of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which was then being debated in Congress. After the crash, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) partially recovered in November-December 1929 and early 1930, only to reverse and crash again, reaching a low point of the great bear market in 1932. On July 8, 1932 the Dow reached its lowest level of the 20th century and did not return to pre-1929 levels until 23 November 1954.
The trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange just after the crash of 1929
After a six-year run when the world saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average increase in value fivefold, prices peaked at 381.17 on September 3, 1929. The market then fell sharply for a month, losing 17% of its value on the initial leg down.
Prices then recovered more than half of the losses over the next week, only to turn back down immediately afterwards. The decline then accelerated into the so-called "Black Thursday", October 24, 1929. A then-record number of 12.9 million shares were traded on that day.
At 1 p.m. on the same day (October 24), several leading Wall Street bankers met to find a solution to the panic and chaos on the trading floor. The meeting included Thomas W. Lamont, acting head of Morgan Bank; Albert Wiggin, head of the Chase National Bank; and Charles E. Mitchell, president of the National City Bank of New York. They chose Richard Whitney, vice president of the Exchange, to act on their behalf. With the bankers' financial resources behind him, Whitney placed a bid to purchase a large block of shares in U.S. Steel at a price well above the current market. As traders watched, Whitney then placed similar bids on other "blue chip" stocks. This tactic was similar to a tactic that ended the Panic of 1907, and succeeded in halting the slide that day. In this case, however, the respite was only temporary.
Over the weekend, the events were covered by the newspapers across the United States. On Monday, October 28, the first "Black Monday", more investors decided to get out of the market, and the slide continued with a record loss in the Dow for the day of 13%. The next day, "Black Tuesday", October 29, 1929, about 16 million shares were traded. The volume on stocks traded on October 29, 1929 was "...a record that was not broken for nearly 40 years, in 1968." Author Richard M. Salsman wrote that on October 29â€”amid rumors that U.S. President Herbert Hoover would not veto the pending Hawley-Smoot Tariff billâ€”stock prices crashed even further." William C. Durant joined with members of the Rockefeller family and other financial giants to buy large quantities of stocks in order to demonstrate to the public their confidence in the market, but their efforts failed to stop the slide. The DJIA lost another 12% that day. The ticker did not stop running until about 7:45 that evening. The market lost billion in value that day, bringing the loss for the week to billion.