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Black Thursday: the great Wall Street crash of 1929.


Students should understand

* a national craze to get rich on the stock market, combined with unregulated stock manipulation by businessmen, caused the market to surge and then collapse in the great Wall Street crash of October 1929.


Ask students: "What might happen if everyone you know tried to get rich at the same time?"


The story of Michael J. Meehan is a classic rise and fall. An Irish immigrant, he rose from a boyhood hustling cigars on Broadway to specialist or key trader for Radio Corporation of America (RCA). By many accounts, he was a hard-working man and not particularly greedy, yet his handling of RCA's stock was called "undoubtedly the most spectacular stock manipulation of the [1920s]" by a historian. In 1935, he was one of the first Wall Street insiders brought down by the new Securities and Exchange Commission.


NOTING DETAIL: With what does President Hoover compare playing the stock market? (rubbing an Aladdin's lamp)

COMPREHENSION: How did investors buying on margin get themselves into trouble? (People who borrowed most of the money to buy a stock often found that if it lost too much value, the broker would have to sell it. At that point, they would be without the stock but still owe money for it.)


LEARN MORE: Assign these research questions to groups that will report to the class: How does the stock market work? How do stocks fuel the economy? What are some ways people manipulate or abuse the stock market?


* K.C. Investor, investor in Kansas City, Missouri

* K.C. Broker, stockbroker Groucho Marx, actor/comedian, one of the famous Marx Brothers Harpo Marx, Groucho's brother Herbert Hoover, President of the United States

* Federal Reserve Governor, an executive of the U.S. national bank * Trader A

* Trader B

Michael Meehan, key trader, RCA

William Crawford, supervisor, New York Stock Exchange

General Oliver Bridgeman, key trader, U.S. Steel

Thomas Lamont, partner, J. P. Morgan and Company

Albert Wiggin, Chairman, Chase National Bank

Edward Stone, Wall Street investor

Edith Stone, his daughter

Mabel Stone, his wife

* Clerk, New York Stock Exchange Narrators A-D

* Indicates fictitious character

In the 1920s, the United States seemed like a place of limitless possibilities. The economy was booming, and millions of Americans dreamed of getting rich in the stock market.

For these people, the center of the world was the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street in Hew York City. There, the stocks of America's major businesses were bought and sold, and the engine of the country's prosperity was fueled. Some people made fortunes by buying stocks at one price and selling at a higher one. Many others tried this strategy and failed. Behind the scenes, America's top bankers and corporations manipulated (controlled) the prices of stocks to make themselves richer.

All of this made stock prices spiral up and up. Inevitably, they came crashing down. The stock market crash of October 1929 had immense consequences for the country and the world.


Narrator A: For many Americans in the late 1920s, following the stock market with their local broker is an obsession. In Kansas City, Missouri, for instance ...

K.C. Investor (rushing in breathlessly): I have 10 minutes for lunch. Quick, what is U.S. Steel trading for?

K.C. Broker (reading ticker tape): Let's see. Looks like it's up 12 points from yesterday.

K.C. Investor: I just made $7,000. But I should have bought those extra hundred shares when I had the chance.

Narrator A: Comedian Groucho Marx and his brothers have also caught the stock market fever. While on the road, at Boston's Copley Hotel ...

Groucho Marx: Quick, Harpo. The elevator man just told me some big shots in expensive suits were talking about buying United Corporation. We've got to get to a broker.

Harpo Marx: I'm still in my robe. Let me get dressed.

Groucho: Are you crazy? If we wait for you to get your clothes on, the stock might jump 10 points. Come on!

Narrator A: But other people are worried about the wild spending on stocks. At the White House ...

Herbert Hoover: It can't be good that so many people are borrowing so much money to buy stocks. What can happen to them?

Federal Reserve Governor: Usually, brokers charge a small margin for a stock, and loan the customer the rest. But if the stock goes down too far, the broker sells it to someone else. So the customer loses the stock, and still owes most of the money for it. People can have their savings wiped out in the blink of an eye.

Hoover: The public is mad with greed.

They think that they are rubbing an Aladdin's lamp. What will happen if the market goes down all at once?

Narrator A: The country is about to find out.


Narrator B: The year 1928 had been a peak for the stock market. Some stocks more than doubled in value. But now, in 1929, the market begins taking some terrible falls. On Wednesday, October 23, stock prices plummet [drop sharply]. Investors and traders leave Wall Street in a state of shock. On Thursday morning, no one knows what to expect.

Trader A: Did you see all those people standing outside, waiting for the market to open?

Trader B: Yeah, they look like dying men checking their own pulse beats.

Trader A: Even Mr. Meehan looks worried.

Narrator B: Michael Meehan is the key stock trader for Radio Corporation of America, or RCA. When the opening bell tings at 10 o'clock, he is immediately overwhelmed.

Trader B (yelling): Selling Radio. Sell!

Trader A (yelling louder): Selling Radio. Who's buying?

Trader B (still louder): Stop pushing, I got here first. Sell!

Michael Meehan: Gentlemen, please! Stay calm. In 10 years, I've never seen the likes of this. No one is buying.

Narrator B: Throughout the morning, Meehan lowers prices by $5 a share, then by $10 and more. Still no buyers. Elsewhere on the floor ...

William Crawford: It's chaos out there. How are things with U.S. Steel?

General Oliver Bridgeman: If Steel continues to go down, it could carry everything else down the chute with it.

Crawford: The tickers can't keep up with the dropping prices! No one knows what the real price of a stock is. It's panic, I tell you. I shudder to think what is coming.


Narrator C: Around noon, the city's top bankers have an emergency meeting at the Wall Street offices of J. P. Morgan and Company.

Thomas Lamont: Gentlemen, we must do something to stop this panic. I suggest that we pump money into the most important stocks.

Albert Wiggin: I'll agree to spend $20 million if everyone else does.

Narrator C: The action of the bankers stops the slide. But it's too late for some people. Waiting at home for her father, who is a Wall Street investor, Edith Stone is worried sick. Finally ...

Edward Stone (bursting in): I've lost everything. Everything! I'm going to kill myself. It's the only way. You'll have the insurance ...

Narrator C: Edith and her mother wrestle him to the ground to keep him from jumping out a window of their high-rise apartment.

Edith Stone: Father, don't do this! Do you want to be remembered as a weakling, a man who gave up?

Mabel Stone: Ed, for heaven's sake, be strong. We'll manage somehow.

Narrator C: With losses of $3 billion, it is the worst day in the history of Wall Street. People begin calling it Black Thursday. Edward Stone does not jump, but a few ruined businessmen do--and worse is yet to come.


Narrator D: On Friday, the market steadies. Over the weekend, President Hoover and prominent bankers try to calm the public. But the public is not so calm. When the market opens on Monday, the panic begins again. By the closing bell at 3 o'clock, $10 billion have been lost. Few people are reassured by Albert Wiggin's statement to the press.

Wiggin: No corporation I am connected with is selling stocks. We are buying.

Narrator D: In fact, Wiggin is lying. He's secretly selling thousands of shares of Chase stock. The situation is bleak. On Tuesday morning, before the opening bell, Meehan talks to his staff.

Meehan: Thousands of orders came in to sell last night. I know it looks bad. I've lost a lot of my own money. But if we keep trading, things will be OK.

Clerk: Looking at the mood out there, I have my doubts. Now I know how they felt at the Alamo.

Narrator D: The panic continues. That day, some $9 billion are lost on the New York Stock Exchange alone, and billions more in other exchanges. In Baltimore, Maryland, Groucho Marx is too depressed to perform.

Groucho: I borrowed to pay more margin to my broker. I borrowed against my life-insurance policy to keep the stock. Now I've lost $240,000! I would have lost more, but that was all the money I had.

Narrator D: The next day, Wednesday, the market finally begins to stabilize. But in six days, investors have lost more than $25 billion. For millions of Americans, the dream of unlimited wealth through the stock market has died a hard death.


The effects of the great Wall Street crash were enormous. The crash was one of the causes of the worldwide economic downturn called the Great Depression (1929-1939). Millions of people lost their jobs, homes, and savings. Some were forced to beg in the streets. In 1932, hearings by the Senate Banking and Currency Committee uncovered massive greed by Albert Wiggin and other Wall Street bankers. Careers were ruined, and some bankers went to jail. Finally, in 1934, Congress created the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to fix the worst abuses of stock manipulation. In the years that followed, the stock market had other terrifying days, and fortunes were gained and lost. Today, Wall Street continues to be the biggest engine of American business and symbol of capitalism--with all its best and worst features.

Words to Know

* broker: one who buys and sells stocks.

* margin: a down payment on a stock bought from a broker.

* stock: the symbol of partial ownership in a company, issued by the company in order to raise capital (money).

Your Turn


What lessons should have been learned from the 1929 stock market crash? Do those same lessons apply today? Explain.



* Production, distribution, and consumption: How actions of stockholders created a panic that caused the stock market to crash.

* Individuals, groups, and institutions: How the worldwide economy was affected by uncontrolled speculation in the stock market.



* Blumenthal, Karen, Six Days in October: The Stock Market Crash of 1929 (Atheneum, 2002). Grades 6-8.

* Ingram, Scott, The Stock Market Crash of 1929 (Gareth Stevens Audio, 2004). Grades 4-8.

WEB SITES * Market Crashes Through the Ages/BBC /2131739.stm

* Photos of the Great Depression photos/blyindexdepression.htm

Use a word from this list to correctly complete each sentence.

Black Thursday, Blue Monday, Doomsday, edge, Herbert Hoover, Internal Revenue Service, life-insurance policies, margin, Michael Meehan, panic, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Securities and Exchange Commission, Social Security benefits, stockbroker, stock market, World Bank

21. Groucho Marx and many other people bought stocks with money borrowed against their --.

22. The down payment on a stock bought from a stockbroker is called a--.

23. October 24, 1929, the first day of the disastrous Wall Street crash, is known as--.

24. At the time of the 1929 stock market crash, the U.S. President was--.

25. To fix the worst abuses of stock manipulation, the U.S. Congress in 1934 created the --.


21. life-insurance policies

22. margin

23. Black Thursday

24. Herbert Hoover

25. Securities and Exchange Commission
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Author:Brown, Bryan
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Article Type:Play
Date:Apr 11, 2005
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