The 1920 Bombing of Wall Street

The 1920 Bombing of Wall Street

When most people think of terrorist attacks in New York City, images of September 11th instantly spring to mind. But that wasn’t the first major attack in New York’s history. The World Trade Centre was attacked earlier in 1993 with a bomb in the building’s basement. But there was yet another terrorist attack in New York, this one right on Wall Street that attempted to shut down the New York Stock Exchange for good.

On September, 16th, 1920, a wagon full of explosives was detonated at “The Corner” of Wall and Broad streets. A man was seen fleeing the wagon moments before it exploded, but no one thought to stop him. A few seconds later, a large explosion ripped through the square, leaving behind it a scene of unfathomable destruction.

Once the smoke had cleared, 39 people had been killed. This ranked as the most deaths from a terrorist attack in New York history until the events of 9/11. Hundreds of people were injured not only by the initial explosion but by bits of iron shrapnel that had been placed inside the wagon so that the maximum possible amount of damage would be done.

A bell rang out in the New York Stock Exchange just after noon on the 16th signalling a stoppage of trading for that day. It was the first time trading had ever been stopped because of violence. A decision had to be made by the governors of the NYSE about whether to open the next day. And much like during 9/11, those that ran the NYSE decided to go ahead with business the very next day.

The 1920 bombing could have had a major historical impact had a few different things happened. A young stockbroker named Joseph Kennedy was on Wall Street that day, and had he been any closer to the blast which knocked him to the ground, America’s political history would look very, very different.

The tragic postscript to the story is that no one was ever caught, arrested, charged or convicted of the bombing. Many people associated with the anarchy movement that was present at the time were suspected and many people were interviewed, but no one ever caught.

For many, the events of 9/11 were a stark reminder of the fact that terrorism is simply part of living. Most figured that the attacks in 1993 and then in 2001 were New York’s first brushes with terror, but a look at the history books shows that New York has stood strong through terror in the past and it will do the same in the future.