Book Review: The day Wall Street exploded by Beverly Gage


On a mid-September day an explosion rips through the financial district of Manhattan in the most devastating terrorist attack in American history up to that point.  The attack is attributed to people who come from outside the country and subscribe to an ideology that its critics say is anti-American.  This all sounds very familiar, but the story here takes place on September 16th, 1920 when an explosion at the corner of Wall Street and Broad Street rocked the House of Morgan and the New York Stock Exchange.  The day Wall Street exploded : a story of America in its first age of terror (2009) by Beverly Gage captures the events of that day as well as the events leading up to that day and its repercussions.

The explosion, graphically detailed in this work, was part of a series of violent acts with Anarchists, Socialists, & labor activists on one side and industrialists, police and private detectives on the other side.  Gage summarizes the history of radical violence dating to the Haymarket affair in 1886 and the subsequent execution of numerous radicals not actually proven to have anything to do with the bombings.  Subsequent events include the Homestead strike, the Ludlow Massacre, assassination attempts on Henry Frick, John D. Rockefeller and Jack Morgan, the successful murder of President McKinley by an anarchist, bombing of the Los Angeles Times office, and the Red Scare.  The cast of characters include proponent of violence Johann Most, anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, labor activist Bill Haywood and socialist Eugene Debs.  The story of Nicolo Sacco and Bartolemo Vanzetti also ties into the Wall Street Bombing with some theorists today believing they had a direct involvement.

The investigation of the bombing is presented as something of mystery with FBI agents, private detectives, and New York City police all attempting to be the first to solve the crime with none succeeding.  Many anarchists, socialists, and immigrants are rounded up with a good portion deported, but the bomber is never found.  Some wonder if there really was a bomb or if it was an accidental explosion of dynamite destined for a construction site.

This is is an excellent and informative history of an overlooked period in American history.  Gage writes that the ultimate demise of the radical movement in the 1920s as well as the House of Morgan/NYSE “business as usual” approach in the aftermath of the bombing have contributed to the absence of this era from many history books.

Author Gage, Beverly.
Title The day Wall Street exploded : a story of America in its first age of terror / Beverly Gage.
Publication Info. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2009.
Description viii, 400 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 24 cm.