In 1968, the New York Stock Exchange drowned in a sea of paperwork, which forced it to close to trading for one day every week. Something had to be done to allow the finite space of the trading floor to serve the potentially infinite growth in trade volume. The automation of securities trading, the replacement of open outcry pits and paperwork with electronic infrastructure, gained momentum as exchanges competed to be bigger, faster, and more secure than rivals.
In this episode of Stories from the Stacks, urban historian Aaron Shkuda, project manager of the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, & the Humanities, discusses his research into the ways securities exchanges in New York and Chicago met the spatial challenges of their mid-twentieth century growth. Shkuda focuses on the relationship between exchange, back office functions, and the urban fabric in which they are embedded, which drew numerous stakeholders into the discussion of market expansion and automation.
Using Hagley Library collections, including the MCI Communications and Sperry Rand Corporation, Univac Division records, Shkuda discovered how automation allowed exchanges to maintain their symbolic headquarters in central city locations while relocating clerical functions to less-expensive suburbs and computer servers. The NASDAQ exchange lead the move toward automation, and others like the NYSE and CBOT followed suit more or less reluctantly.
To support his use of Hagley Library collections, Dr. Shkuda received an Exploratory research grant from the Center for the History of Business, Technology, & Society. More information on funding opportunities for research at Hagley can be found here.
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Interview and production by Gregory Hargreaves.
Image: The floor of the New York Stock Exchange, PC20100728_206, Series II, Subseries RRR, Box 37, Folder 7, Chamber of Commerce of the United States photographs and audiovisual materials (Accession 1993.230), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807