Although it only covers eight city blocks, Wall Street looms large as one of the most important financial districts in the world.

From films like The Wolf of Wall Street to its key role in the United States economy, it’s one of the most famous—and infamous—districts in New York City. But what exactly is Wall Street? How has it become one of NYC’s most notable neighborhoods?


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What exactly is Wall Street?

A key street in the heart of New York’s Financial District in Manhattan, Wall Street is home of the New York Stock Exchange, the largest stock exchange in the world.

It’s also where many of the US’s biggest banks, investment firms, financial firms, and brokerage firms are based. Many of the biggest names in the financial world can be found here, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.


Where is Wall Street?

Spanning just eight blocks from Broadway to South Street, Wall Street is located in Lower Manhattan, only a few blocks from the very tip of Manhattan island and Battery Park.


Why are bulls and bears associated with Wall Street?

One of the most famous landmarks on Wall Street is the giant bronze statue of a charging bull. Not only is it a symbol of power, determination, aggression, and perseverance by the American economy and Americans in general, but the bull is also part of Wall Street lingo.

Bulls and bears are two aggressive, intimidating animals that are used as shorthand to describe the “mood” of the stock market. A bull market means that everyone is buying stocks, whereas a bear market means that everyone is selling off their stocks.

There are several theories as to how bears and bulls came to be associated with Wall Street and the stock market. Both terms date from the 1700s and caught on in response to the South Sea market hysteria scandal of 1720.

“Bear” is said to derive from bearskin, which was an 18th-century term for speculative stock buying (otherwise known today as short selling), and “bull” was first used as its counterpart in a poem by Alexander Pope about the scandal.


Humble beginnings: How Wall Street got its start

Although Wall Street is now a hub for financial markets, investment banking, and investing in the stock market, it wasn’t always that way. It’s actually part of one of New York’s oldest neighborhoods, dating from the 1650s, when New York was known as New Amsterdam under Dutch settlers.

There are various theories as to how it got the name Wall Street (or “de Waalstraat” in Dutch), one of the most popular being an actual 2,340-foot wooden wall that was built along the street in the late 1600s to protect New Amsterdam from being invaded.


Wall Street once had close ties to the slave trade

In 1711, in the now English-run New York, Wall Street became the city’s official slave market, operating until 1762. The grim history of Wall Street and New York’s close ties with the slave trade is remembered at the nearby African Burial Ground National Monument.

Located at the site of North America’s biggest-known and oldest excavated burial ground for enslaved and freed Africans, the memorial is a place to learn about the horrors of the slave trade and pay tribute to those who died at its hands.


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The New York Stock Exchange lands on Wall Street

In 1792, the Buttonwood Agreement marked the start of Wall Street’s current incarnation as a financial center, with its members opening the New York Stock and Exchange Board. Throughout the 1800s, Wall Street grew and evolved, seeing its first stock ticker, the introduction of the Dow Jones Average, and the creation of the Wall Street Journal.


Depressions and recessions take their toll

In 1929, the stock market crash decimated financial markets, ushering in the Great Depression. And nearly 80 years later, after recovering and incorporating the technological advances of the mid-to-late 1900s by switching to computers, the stock market collapse in 2008 led to the Great Recession.


Delve into Wall Street history during your visit to NYC

This just scratches the surface of Wall Street’s history, which you can learn more about on our New York City Wall Street Walking Tour.

Walk past some of the biggest banks in the world, view the famous Charging Bull sculpture, and much more on a historical walking tour of this storied street—a must-do for any NYC itinerary.

Original post date: January 5, 2023