Check out William Worthington Fowler’s description of Wall Street, circa 1870:

“To the merchant and banker it is a financial centre, collecting and distributing money, regulating the exchanges of a continent and striking balances of trade with London and Frankfort. To the outside observer and novice it is a kind of work-shop thronged by cunning artisans who work in precious metals, where vessels of gold and silver are wrought or made to shine with fresh luster, and where old china is fire-gilt as good as new. The moralist and philosopher look upon it as a gambling-den, a cage of unclean birds, an abomination where men drive a horrible trade, fattening and battening on the substance of their friends and neighbors—or perhaps a kind of modern coliseum where gladiatorial combats are joined, and bulls, bears and other ferocious beasts gore and tear each other for public amusement. The brokers regard it as a place of business where, in mercantile parlance, they may ply a legitimate trade, buying and selling for others on commission. To the speculators it is a caravansera where they may load or unload their camels and drive them away betimes to some pleasant oasis. To the financial commanders it is an arsenal in which their arms and chariots are stored, the stronghold to be defended or besieged, the field for strategy, battles and plunder.”

-William Worthington Fowler
Ten years in Wall Street or, Revelations of inside life and experience on ‘change, 1870

Ten years in Wall Street is also available at Google Books

Category: Investing

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4 Responses to “Ten years in Wall Street or, Revelations of inside life and experience on ‘change”

  1. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    Now it’s simply fraud.

  2. WFTA says:

    He forgot to mention stealing and lobbying.

  3. As usual, the philosopher has the most accurate perspective:

    Wall Street: “a gambling-den, a cage of unclean birds, an abomination where men drive a horrible trade, fattening and battening on the substance of their friends and neighbors—or perhaps a kind of modern coliseum where gladiatorial combats are joined, and bulls, bears and other ferocious beasts gore and tear each other for public amusement.”

    I would say, however, that “amusement” is not the way the public perceives Wall Street’s activities but it is rather the healthiest way to perceive it–as a disengaged, yet curious observer who shrugs in amusement while on his way to doing something that has nothing to do with the pursuit of money, material wealth or social status.

  4. Lyle says:

    Yes after I found the quote in American Colossus by HW Brands, I thought how little has changed, we make things illegal and creativity comes up with ways around it. We sort of fixed the equities game (which was what was being played in the 1860s) so the financial types invented derivatives on the fixed income game.
    The book F.I.A.S.C.O. as a twentieth century book makes a similar point, if you trade kiss your money good bye. Today of course its not Uncle Daniel or Uncle Vanderbilt, its Uncle Goldman and the continuation of uncle Morgan in 2 houses etc.