Stock market is the root of all evil, and somehow the Wall Street is different from the Main Street. If you believe that to be true, think again. Stock and Wall Street are a direct result of individuals thinking up of ways to invest in ventures that are too big for any one individual to execute upon. This was especially true in the early 1600s, when Europe was burning with frenzy over how to exploit 'meaker' countries of their riches while fattening the European wallets. That was the medieval equivalent of 'Internet Boom' of 2000
Stock markets did not begin as the super-sophisticated, simultaneous, worldwide trading exchanges of today. It was not until 1531 when the first institution roughly approximating a stock market emerged, in Antwerp, Belgium. However, as Investopedia notes, this was, “…the first stock market, sans stock.” Rather than buying and selling shares of companies (which did not yet exist), brokers and lenders congregated there to “deal in business, government and even individual debt issues.”
This changed in the 1600′s, when Britain, France, and the Netherlands all chartered voyages to the East Indies. Realizing that few explorers could afford conducting an overseas trade voyage, limited liability companies were formed to raise money from investors, who received a share of profits commensurate with their investment.
The earliest British voyages to the Indian Ocean were unsuccessful, resulting in lost ships and the financier’s personal fortunes being seized by creditors. This led a group of London merchants to form a corporation in September of 1599 which would limit each member’s liability to the amount they personally invested. If the voyage failed, nothing more than this amount could be lawfully seized. The Queen granted the merchants a fifteen year charter in 1600, dubbing their corporation the “Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies” (or simply, “The East India Company.”) The limited liability formula proved successful, leading King James I to grant charters to more trading companies by 1609 and triggering business growth in other ocean-bordering European countries.
The Dutch East India company was actually the first to allow outside investors to purchase shares entitling them to a fixed percentage of the company’s profits. They were also the first company to issue stocks and bonds to the general public, doing so via the Amsterdam Stock Exchange in 1602 according to Britannica.
The London Stock Exchange
The proliferation of stock-issuing companies led to the creation of the London Stock Exchange. At first, there was no one building where shares were exchanged. Rather, the bulk of brokers and investors did their business at various coffee shops around London. At this time, when companies wished to sell shares or issue debt, they posted notices on coffee shop doors or mailed newsletters to their patrons. Jonathan’s Coffee House in Change Alley, in particular, evolved into a major hub for London’s nascent stock exchange.
Decentralized trading continued to swell at London’s coffee houses until a fire ripped through Change Alley in 1748, leading a group of wealthy traders to erect a dedicated building for the exchange in 1773. So began what would be a lengthy tenure for Britain as the finance capital of the world. While since surpassed by the United States, London remains one of the world’s financial epicenters.
The Amsterdam Stock Exchange
Amsterdam Stock Exchange is believed to have been the first stock exchange that allowed continuous trade, and according to Murray Sayle, “…pioneered short-selling, option trading, debt-equity swaps, merchant banking, unit trusts, and other speculative investments, much as we know them.” Despite these innovations, Amsterdam’s exchange never achieved quite as much prominence on world finance’s stage as London or New York.
New York stock Exchange
Several years later, in 1793, the New York Stock & Exchange Board opened for business on Wall Street. Despite not being the United States’ first stock exchange (the Philadelphia Stock Exchange was), the NYSE quickly established itself as the cornerstone of finance in the fledgling new country. Like its London counterpart, the NYSE started small, originally operating out of a single room. This location was destroyed by fire, prompting a relocation to Broad Street and the renaming of the exchange to the New York Stock Exchange.
It didn’t take long for the NYSE to become a financial powerhouse. According to NYSE.com, the volume of traded stocks shot up sixfold from 1896-1901. Much of this success can be attributed to the location of the exchange in New York City, the center of virtually all business and trade in the US at the time. The NYSE also was the first exchange to successfully institute listing requirements and fees, which generated a substantial amount of revenue for the exchange. For over 200 years, the New York Stock Exchange stood as the unquestioned leader among all exchanges.