Wall Street Bombing – 1920

Terrorist attacks on America’s financial institutions are not new.

Although the scale of the 1920 Wall Street bombing is dwarfed by 9/11, at the time it was a tragedy of similarly momentous proportions. America was shaken to its core: The Washington Post described the bombing as an ‘act of war’, there was an immediate security crackdown, and initial horror quickly turned to indignation and defiance.

Just before noon on September 16, an old horse-drawn wagon pulled up in the street just outside ‘The Comer’, headquarters of the world’s leading financier J. P. Morgan. Across the road were the US Sub-Treasury and the Assay Office and round the comer was the New York Stock Exchange. As the church bells struck noon, the wagon’s driver jumped down and vanished. Seconds later there was a massive explosion.

The wagon had been loaded with 45 kg (100 lb) of dynamite and packed with 230 kg (500 lb) of cast-iron weights (of the sort used in sash-window frames) – a peculiarly deadly shrapnel. One of the sash weights was rocketed to the 34th floor of a nearby building by the force of the blast, and windows shattered 800 m (0.05 mi) away. When the air cleared, the cobbled street was a fearful sight – a grotesque scene of mutilated bodies and scattered limbs strewn in a sea of shattered glass. The horse had been blown apart – a solitary leg lay poignantly draped across a doorstep.

Within minutes, police, medics and troops were on the scene. By midafternoon Wall Street had been cleared up and the New York Stock Exchange defiantly declared that tomorrow would be business as usual. The next day, thousands of New Yorkers congregated at noon and one of the largest crowds in the city’s history sang The Star-Spangled Banner in a spontaneous demonstration of patriotic fervor.

When was the Wall Street Bombing: September 16 1920

Where was the Wall Street Bombing: Wall Street, New York, USA

What was the Wall Street Bombing death toll: The bomb left 38 dead and 400 injured, most of them messengers, secretaries and junior clerks setting out on their lunch-hour break, it caused $2 million-worth of damage (S18 million in today’s terms).

You should know: The perpetrators of the bombing were never caught. A note, discovered the following day in a nearby mailbox, threatened:’… Free the political prisoners or it will be sure death for all of you. American Anarchist Fighters’, from which it was deduced that an anarchist group was behind the attack. But investigations never led anywhere and 20 years later the FBI finally closed the file.

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