May 17, 1792 — Under a buttonwood tree near Wall Street, 24 stockbrokers gathered to sign an agreement that would serve as a precursor to the New York Stock Exchange Board, the predecessor of the New York Stock Exchange.
The brokers would perform their transactions in a second-floor room of the Tontine Coffee House. At the time, financial and political wrangling often took place in taverns and coffeehouses. At the Tontine, self-made men — both black and white — traded gossip and conducted business.
Ship captains came to share commercial news and to register cargo — including the human cargo of enslaved men, women, and children. The mercantile city was also crowded and unsanitary, and frequent outbreaks of infectious disease not only hastened the growth of the city northward, away from the crowded downtown, but also propelled strides forward in medical research and treatment.
Words of Wisdom for May 17, 2015
“The richest one percent of this country owns half our country’s wealth, five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do, stock and real estate speculation. It’s bullshit. You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own.”
— Gordon Gekko, a fictional character in the 1987 film "Wall Street"