How Wall Street Got Its Name

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 16,620
    Wall Street is famous for being New York’s financial hub, but the history behind its name is a surprise even to some native New Yorkers.

    James Nevius: Wall Street, it's synonymous with high finance. Over $150 billion a day is traded at the New York Stock Exchange. But people seldom stop to ask, why is it called Wall Street?

    Bob: Do I know how it got its name?

    Fatima Torretta: No, I don't know. Pete: If my memory serves me, I think I learned in high school that there used to be a wall going all the way up and down the street. James Nevius: In fact, there was and to understand why there was a wall on Wall Street, we need to go back to the 17th century, before the city was called New York when the Dutch created an outpost that they called New Amsterdam on this very southern point of the Island of Manhattan. When the English and the Dutch went to war in 1652, Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor of New Amsterdam got nervous. He was surrounded by English; there were English in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island. There were English to the south and the Carolinas and Virginia. Now he thought that Fort Amsterdam could do a good job protecting the island from the harbor and the two rivers. But what if the English attacks the island by walking down Manhattan? They needed a northern defense. In 1653, the citizens of New Amsterdam pooled their money to pay for the wall. It ran from Pearl Street on the east river side of the island all the way to the Hudson River. Three years later, a group of Native American tribes beach their canoes north of the wall and when the time came for the attack, they simply walked around the side of the wall. The City Council hurriedly voted to strengthen the wall. They made it 12 feet tall, they made the sides actually go down the two sides of the island, but still the wall proved to be useless. The English showed up in August 1664 with four warships and about 600 soldiers, the Dutch were pragmatic to the end and the English took over without having to fire a shot. Since the wall had been built to keep them out, they tore it down in 1699 and no trace of the wall remains today. Bob: I wish I knew this history when I was back in elementary school. James Nevius: This is James Nevius reporting from New York City.