Wall Street

May 17th: The Birth of the NYSE – The Buttonwood Agreement of 1792


The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is a symbol of financial power and global commerce. It is the world’s largest stock exchange, with a history spanning over two centuries. However, its origins can be traced back to a historic event that took place on May 17th, 1792. On that day, a group of merchants and traders gathered under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street in New York City to establish what would later become the NYSE. In this blog post, we will delve into the story behind the Buttonwood Agreement, explore the significance of this event, and discuss how it laid the foundation for the development of one of the most influential financial institutions in the world.

The Origins of the NYSE

In the late 18th century, New York City was experiencing rapid growth and emerging as a prominent center for trade and commerce. As a result, financial markets began to develop, and stock trading became increasingly popular. However, the lack of organized trading platforms and regulations posed challenges for merchants and investors.

Recognizing the need for a formalized marketplace to conduct securities trading, a group of 24 merchants and traders came together in 1792. They met under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street and signed a historic agreement, known as the Buttonwood Agreement, which established rules and principles for securities trading.

The Buttonwood Agreement

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The Buttonwood Agreement was a pivotal moment in the history of financial markets. It was named after the buttonwood tree under which the agreement was made. The agreement outlined several key provisions that laid the foundation for the establishment of a stock exchange in New York City.

Firstly, the agreement established a commitment among the signatories to deal only with each other, effectively forming a closed network of traders. This exclusivity aimed to ensure trust and maintain the integrity of the market.

Secondly, the agreement stipulated that trading commissions would be standardized, eliminating the practice of charging excessive fees. This provision aimed to promote fair and transparent trading practices.

Thirdly, the agreement introduced regular meetings among the traders to discuss market conditions, share information, and resolve disputes. These gatherings would later evolve into the concept of the stock exchange floor, where traders would physically convene to conduct business.

The establishment of the Buttonwood Agreement marked a significant shift towards organized and regulated securities trading. It laid the groundwork for the development of the New York Stock Exchange, which would grow to become the leading financial institution it is today.

Evolution and Impact

In the years following the Buttonwood Agreement, the stock market in New York City experienced significant growth and evolution. The organization that formed under the agreement evolved into the New York Stock and Exchange Board in 1817 and was later renamed the New York Stock Exchange in 1863.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the NYSE played a crucial role in facilitating capital formation, providing a platform for companies to raise funds and investors to trade securities. It became a symbol of financial stability and a barometer of economic health, reflecting the growth and fluctuations of the American economy.

Early Trading on Wall Street

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The NYSE introduced various innovations and technologies to streamline trading processes. Notably, in 1878, the NYSE moved from open outcry trading to a centralized trading floor, where traders could buy and sell stocks in a more efficient and transparent manner. Over time, advancements such as electronic trading systems further revolutionized the way securities were traded on the exchange.

The NYSE’s influence extended beyond American borders, with international companies seeking listings on the exchange to gain access

to global capital markets. Its reputation for strict listing standards and regulatory oversight made it an attractive destination for companies aspiring to grow and expand.


The Buttonwood Agreement of 1792 marked a turning point in the history of financial markets, laying the foundation for the establishment of the New York Stock Exchange. This historic event set the stage for the growth and evolution of one of the world’s most influential financial institutions. Today, the NYSE continues to shape global commerce and serves as a symbol of economic power and stability. As we commemorate the birth of the NYSE on May 17th, we acknowledge the vision and foresight of those merchants and traders who gathered under the buttonwood tree and set in motion a financial revolution that would shape the world of investing for centuries to come.

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