Stock market history from the year you were born
Whether or not you are a big investor, most Americans know that a glance at the stock market is usually a dependable gauge of the financial temperature of the country. Even now, as COVID-19 affects daily life, the performance of the stock market has provided some indication of how the public is reacting to the pandemic. There was a momentary jump in gains when Congress considered passing aid packages in early March, but steep drops followed, as more of the country shut down for the health and well-being of its citizens.
Stacker compiled historical total annual returns, including both price appreciation and dividends, from 1920 to 2019. Stock returns data from 1928 to 2019 is from YCharts and New York University finance professor Aswath Damodaran. The 1920 to 1927 stock returns are based on Robert Shiller’s Standard & Poor’s (S&P) Composite total returns, originally published in his 1989 book “Market Volatility,” which has been revised and updated. In 1957, the S&P transitioned its major index into an examination of 500 select companies, creating the well-known S&P 500 index. The index tracks companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the Nasdaq Stock Market, using a market capitalization weighting methodology—giving more weight to larger companies—as compared to the price-weighted approach employed by the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Annual returns for three-month U.S. Treasury bills—short-term bonds that serve as an indicator of the risk-free rate—are included as a basis for comparison to stock market returns. All current stock prices listed are from the week of March 16.
Whether you’re a finance buff, a history fiend, or looking to relive a slice of American life from your youth, the following slideshow is sure to inform. During the history of the American stock market, Wall Street has experienced bombings, shocking closings, and ticker-tape parades. Click through to read about this and much more stock market history from the year you were born.
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- Return on S&P Composite index: -12.34%
- Return on 3-month Treasury bills: 5.42%
On Sept. 16, a bomber killed 30 people on Wall Street in the heart of New York’s financial district. Trading was cancelled for the day, and although anarchists were primary suspects, the case was never solved.
- Return on S&P Composite index: 22.70%
- Return on 3-month Treasury bills: 4.83%
After World War I, a depression ran from early 1920 to the summer of 1921. By some measures, stock prices were cut in half and unemployment affected almost 20% of the American labor force. When the market rebounded, the Roaring ʼ20s took off.
- Return on S&P Composite index: 29.67%
- Return on 3-month Treasury bills: 3.47%
Beginning in 1922 and lasting until 1929, gross national product grew annually at 4.7%, setting off the Roaring ʼ20s. In addition, industrial production grew annually at 3.1%, and the unemployment average was 3.7%. At year’s end, the stock market was up 21.5% from 1921.
- Return on S&P Composite index: 2.13%
- Return on 3-month Treasury bills: 3.93%
In 1923, Calvin Coolidge became president of the United States after the death of Warren G. Harding. During Coolidge’s first year in office, minimum wage laws mandated for women were declared unconstitutional, and he had to combat a major united coal strike. Stocks continued to rise, though, reaching a high of 105.38, its highest mark since 1920.
- Return on S&P Composite index: 26.05%
- Return on 3-month Treasury bills: 2.71%
The height of the Roaring ʼ20s began in 1924. Throughout the next five years, the Dow Jones Industrial Average quadrupled. In November, Calvin Coolidge was re-elected president of the United States.
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- Return on S&P Composite index: 21.04%
- Return on 3-month Treasury bills: 3.03%
The stock market closed 1925 at its highest price ever, at 151.08. Also this year, the Chrysler Corporation was founded, and automakers soon became some of the biggest drivers of Wall Street.
- Return on S&P Composite index: 13.93%
- Return on 3-month Treasury bills: 3.23%
At 157.20, the Dow closed at its highest mark ever in 1926. However, that figure would be nothing compared to the next two years, when the Dow closed at over 200 and then 300. NBC and Schick were among the future business titans to open up shop this year.
- Return on S&P Composite index: 38.15%
- Return on 3-month Treasury bills: 3.10%
In 1927, RCA became a pioneer in television and several other new technologies created a stock market bubble over the next two years. General Motors also introduced its Cadillac division’s LaSalle line, and with TV and cars becoming more prevalent, unprecedented opulence permeated the country.
- Return on the S&P 500: 43.81%
- Return on 3-month Treasury bills: 3.08%
Allied Van Lines, Delta Air Lines, Farmers Insurance, and Playskool were just some of the companies founded in 1928, as American business was booming and people wanted to get in on the thriving stock market. The Dow jumped more than 49% from 1927, but a cloud was looming, and it would shower down doom in the year to come.
- Return on the S&P 500: -8.3%
- Return on 3-month Treasury bills: 3.16%
Oct. 28, 1929, is remembered as Black Monday, when the stock market dropped 13%. The following day, the market fell 12%. The 1929 high of 381.17 would not be reached again until the 1950s. The great crash of 1929 led America into a financial spiral, precipitated by a recession a few months earlier.
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