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The Wall Street Crash of 1929, also known as the Great Crash, or the Crash of 29, was a major American stock market crash that occurred in the autumn of 1929. It started in September and ended in mid November, when share prices on the New York Stock Exchange collapsed.

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It was the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States, when taking into consideration the full extent and duration of its aftereffects.[1] The Great Crash is mostly associated with October 24, 1929, called Black Thursday, the day of the largest sell-off of shares in U.S. history,[2][3] and October 29, 1929, called Black Tuesday, when investors traded some 16 million shares on the New York Stock Exchange in a single day.[4] The crash, which followed the London Stock Exchange's crash of September, signaled the beginning of the Great Depression.

Despite the inherent risk of speculation, it was widely believed that the stock market would continue to rise forever. On March 25, 1929, after the Federal Reserve warned of excessive speculation, a small crash occurred as investors started to sell stocks at a rapid pace, exposing the market's shaky foundation.[7] Two days later, banker Charles E. Mitchell announced that his company, the National City Bank, would provide $25 million in credit to stop the market's slide.[7] Mitchell's move brought a temporary halt to the financial crisis, and call money declined from 20 to 8 percent.[7] However, the American economy showed ominous signs of trouble.[7] Steel production declined, construction was sluggish, automobile sales went down, and consumers were building up large debts because of easy credit.[7]

Despite all the economic warning signs and the market breaks in March and May 1929, stocks resumed their advance in June, and the gains continued almost unabated until early September 1929 (the Dow Jones average gained more than 20% between June and September). The market had been on a nine-year run that saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average increase in value tenfold, peaking at 381.17 on September 3, 1929.[7] Shortly before the crash, economist Irving Fisher famously proclaimed "Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau."[8] The optimism and the financial gains of the great bull market were shaken after a well-publicized September 8 prediction from financial expert Roger Babson that "a crash is coming, and it may be terrific".[9][10] The initial September decline was thus called the "Babson Break" in the press. That was the start of the Great Crash, but until the severe phase of the crash in October, many investors regarded the September "Babson Break" as a "healthy correction" and buying opportunity.[citation needed]

Selling intensified in mid-October. On October 24, "Black Thursday", the market lost 11% of its value at the opening bell on very heavy trading.[12] The huge volume meant that the report of prices on the ticker tape in brokerage offices around the nation was hours late, and so investors had no idea what most stocks were trading for.[13] Several leading Wall Street bankers met to find a solution to the panic and chaos on the trading floor.[14] 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.[15] They chose Richard Whitney, vice president of the Exchange, to act on their behalf.[citation needed]

With the bankers' financial resources behind him, Whitney placed a bid to purchase 25,000 shares of U.S. Steel at $205 per share, a price well above the current market.[16] As traders watched, Whitney then placed similar bids on other "blue chip" stocks. The tactic was similar to one that had ended the Panic of 1907 and succeeded in halting the slide. The Dow Jones Industrial Average recovered, closing down only 6.38 points (2.09%) for the day.[citation needed]

On October 29, 1929, "Black Tuesday" hit Wall Street as investors traded some 16 million shares on the New York Stock Exchange in a single day. Billions of dollars were lost, wiping out thousands of investors. The panic selling reached its peak with some stocks having no buyers at any price.[18] The Dow lost an additional 30.57 points, or 11.73%, for a total drop of 68.90 points, or 23.05% in two days.[19][20][21][22]

On October 29, William C. Durant joined with members of the Rockefeller family and other financial giants to buy large quantities of stocks to demonstrate to the public their confidence in the market, but their efforts failed to stop the large decline in prices. The massive volume of stocks traded that day made the ticker continue to run until about 7:45 p.m.[citation needed]

Beginning on March 15, 1933, and continuing through the rest of the 1930s, the Dow began to slowly regain the ground it had lost. The largest percentage increases of the Dow Jones occurred during the early and mid-1930s. In late 1937, there was a sharp dip in the stock market, but prices held well above the 1932 lows. The Dow Jones did not return to its peak close of September 3, 1929, for 25 years, until November 23, 1954.[25][26][27]

The crash followed a speculative boom that had taken hold in the late 1920s. During the latter half of the 1920s, steel production, building construction, retail turnover, automobiles registered, and even railway receipts advanced from record to record. The combined net profits of 536 manufacturing and trading companies showed an increase, in the first six months of 1929, of 36.6% over 1928, itself a record half-year. Iron and steel led the way with doubled gains.[33] Such figures set up a crescendo of stock-exchange speculation that led hundreds of thousands of Americans to invest heavily in the stock market. Many people were borrowing money to buy more stocks. By August 1929, brokers were routinely lending small investors more than two thirds of the face value of the stocks that they were buying. Over $8.5 billion was out on loan,[34] more than the entire amount of currency circulating in the United States at the time.[35][36]

The rising share prices encouraged more people to invest on the hope that share prices would rise further. Speculation thus fueled further rises and created an economic bubble. Because of margin buying, investors stood to lose large sums of money if the market turned down or even if it failed to advance quickly enough. The average price to earnings ratio of S&P Composite stocks was 32.6 in September 1929,[37] clearly above historical norms.[38] According to the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, the exuberance also resulted in a large number of people placing their savings and money in leverage investment products like Goldman Sachs's "Blue Ridge trust" and "Shenandoah Trust," which crashed in 1929 as well, resulting in losses to banks of $475 billion in 2010 dollars ($590.25 billion in 2021).[39]

Good harvests had built up a mass of 250 million bushels of wheat to be "carried over" when 1929 opened. By May there was also a winter wheat crop of 560 million bushels ready for harvest in the Mississippi Valley. The oversupply caused such a drop in wheat prices that the net incomes of farmers from wheat were threatened with extinction. Stock markets are always sensitive to the future state of commodity markets,[citation needed] and the slump in Wall Street that had been predicted for May by Sir George Paish arrived on time. In June 1929, the position was saved by a severe drought in the Dakotas and the Canadian West, as well as unfavorable seed times in Argentina and eastern Australia. The oversupply was now wanted to fill the gaps in the 1929 world wheat production. From 97 per bushel in May, the price of wheat rose to $1.49 in July. When it was seen that figure would make American farmers get more for their crop that year than in 1928, stocks went up again.[40]

In August, the wheat price fell when France and Italy were bragging about a magnificent harvest, and the situation in Australia improved. That sent a shiver through Wall Street and stock prices quickly dropped, but word of cheap stocks brought a fresh rush of "stags" (amateur speculators) and investors. Congress voted for a $100 million relief package for the farmers on the hope of stabilizing wheat prices, but by October, the price had fallen to $1.31 per bushel.[41]

Other important economic barometers were also slowing or even falling by mid-1929, including car sales, house sales, and steel production. The falling commodity and industrial production may have dented even American self-confidence, and the stock market peaked on September 3 at 381.17 just after Labor Day, and it started to falter after Roger Babson issued his prescient "market crash" forecast. By the end of September, the market had dropped 10% from the peak (the "Babson Break"). Selling intensified in early and mid-October, with sharp down days punctuated by a few up days. Panic selling of massive proportion started the week of October 21 and intensified and culminated on October 24, October 28, and especially October 29 ("Black Tuesday").[42]

We are reaping the natural fruit of the orgy of speculation in which millions of people have indulged. It was inevitable, because of the tremendous increase in the number of stockholders in recent years, that the number of sellers would be greater than ever when the boom ended and selling took the place of buying.[43][44]

Together, the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression formed the largest financial crisis of the 20th century.[45] The panic of October 1929 has come to serve as a symbol of the economic contraction that gripped the world during the next decade.[46] The falls in share prices on October 24 and 29, 1929 were practically instantaneous in all financial markets, except Japan.[47]

The Wall Street Crash had a major impact on the U.S. and world economy, and it has been the source of intense academic historical, economic, and political debate from its aftermath until the present day. Some people believed that abuses by utility holding companies contributed to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed.[48] Many people blamed the crash on commercial banks that were too eager to put deposits at risk on the stock market.[49]


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