Daily Video

April 2, 2009

The Day Wall Street Exploded

As the American economy continues to falter, anger against Wall Street and the bankers who contributed to the catastrophe is growing.

But in 1920 America, there was a world-wide dissatisfaction with capitalism that went beyond angry voters.

Resentment of industrial capitalism and unrest inspired by the Russian revolution led to a Wall Street bombing that killed 38 people in September 1920.

Until the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, it was the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

In this conversation with the NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown, author Beverly Gage discusses her book “The Day Wall Street Exploded.” The book takes a look back at this troubled time and how it compares to current disgust with Wall Street.

Quotes

“Just before noon on Sept. 16, 1920, a horse-drawn cart pulled up near J.P. Morgan banks’ headquarters on Wall Street. The explosion from the dynamite on the wagon killed 38 people and wounded 143 more. Until the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, it was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. And yet this attack, coming at a time of enormous social and economic tumult, is little known and little marked in our history books.” – Jeffrey Brown

“In 1919, 4 million American workers went out on strike, and a lot of this was happening in the midst of a conversation about, you know, would capitalism survive? Or were we all facing an inevitable socialist revolution in the future?” – Beverly Gage, Yale University

“Wall Street has actually been subject to a lot of controversy throughout its time. I mean, it’s mostly done pretty well and has mostly survived, but there is something of a cautionary note in the tale. I mean, a lot of what this book is about is about groups of people who found themselves so frustrated at their inability to express their grievances in other ways that they turned to violence in the end.” – Beverly Gage

Warm Up Questions

1. What is Wall Street?

2. Who might be against Wall Street? Why?

Discussion Questions

1. Why are people angry at Wall Street today? Why were they angry in 1920?

2. With all of the anger against the financial sector in 2009, why haven’t there been any overt acts of violence against Wall Street firms? How is 2009 different from 1920?

3. Why do people become angry or disenchanted with capitalism?

4. Will capitalism as we know it survive this financial crisis? How did it survive the 1920s and the Great Depression?

Additional Resources

Read the transcript

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