Here’s the story: America was the place to be during the 1920’s. You had the Charleston, people sitting on top of flagpoles, the introduction of ‘talkie pictures’… but best of all, everyone was getting rich. That guy you bumped into on the street? A millionaire. The fellow who worked in the local supermarket? Owned thousands of shares of the Ford Motor Company. Shoe shine boys had their own portfolios, and stockbrokers regularly smoked cigars that were lit by crisp hundred dollar bills. Whenever the market fluctuated slightly in either direction, the answer was simple: Buy! Buy! Buy!!!
On October 24, 1929, it all came crashing down. It started off with some simple selling by investors. Stock prices began to fall, slowly at first, but soon picking up in momentum, until the ticker tape machine fell a full hour and a half behind. This increased the panic quite a bit, and people started to sell without even knowing the price of their stocks. Seven prominent speculators committed suicide, and police had to be dispatched in order to prevent a potential riot. By 12:30 PM, the Chicago and Buffalo Exchanges had been shut down.
The New York Stock Exchange remained open, though, and rumors continued to fly. Thomas Lamont, a senior partner of Morgan (a major brokerage firm), released a statement that said, “There has been a little distress selling on the Stock Exchange.” Oddly, this did not calm the masses. 12.9 million shares would ultimately be traded that day, more than had ever changed hands before. The population was stunned, and people foolish enough to venture onto the streets had to run back and forth constantly to avoid the stockbrokers jumping out of their 30th story windows.
This fateful day would come to be known as “Black Thursday” by historians. Trading would continue dramatically over the next month, as people sold everything that they had and quickly realized that their formerly vast holdings were now worthless. This would be followed by the Great Depression, a sad period in America’s history involving gigantic dustbowls and truly wrathful grapes. Not that any of this has any bearing on today, of course.