Wall Street Bombing
September 16, 1920: Wall Street is bombed. JP Morgan bank, located at 23 Wall Street, was on the Financial District’s busiest corner. At noon, a horse-drawn carriage pulled up. Inside the carriage was 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of cast-iron sash weights. It exploded in a timer-set detonation sending the slugs through the air. The horse and carriage were blasted to bit although it was thought the driver had escaped prior to the explosion. Thirty people were killed at the scene and eight more eventually died of injuries sustained in the blast. Hundreds more were injured; 143 of them seriously. The victims were mostly young people who worked in the area – messengers, stenographers, clerks, and brokers.
There was also substantial property damage with most of the interior of the Morgan building destroyed. It was listed as $2 million in damages or about $23.5 million today. Within a minute of the explosion, William H Remick, president of the New York Stock Exchange, suspended trading in order to prevent a panic. Like other disasters in New York City, the citizens helped each other. James Saul, a then 17-year-old messenger, commandeered an undamaged parked car and was able to transport 30 injured people to a local hospital. The police arrived quickly and administered first aid when possible. They, too, took over parked cars and began ferrying the injured to hospitals.
The Bureau of Investigation (BOI, forerunner of today’s FBI), did not immediately believe the bombing was an act of terrorism. There were so many innocent people killed and the lack of a specific target, other than buildings which suffered no structural damage, was puzzling. It was thought, at first, it might be an accident. The New York Stock Exchange met by 3.30 PM and decided to open the next day. Investigators contacted businesses which sold or transported explosives. Crews cleaned up the debris overnight, allowing for business to resume the next day. The New York assistant district attorney felt the explosion might be the work of radical opponents to capitalism, noting the location of the bombing.
Investigators focused on radical groups and there were many options available. The perpetrators were never caught but it was blamed on anarchists and Communists. The Washington Post called the bombing an “act of war”. A rally to celebrate Constitution Day had been scheduled for the very intersection the following day and thousands showed up in defiance of the attack. The bombing led to the government’s increase in tracking radical groups and led to an expansion of the BOI’s role as well as gave J Edgar Hoover more power. It is assumed that Galleanists, Italian anarchists, were responsible as they had carried out a number of these attacks the year before. It was the deadliest act of terrorism carried out on US soil up to that time. It would be replaced on that horrible list by the Bath School disaster in 1927.
A culture without property, or in which creators can’t get paid, is anarchy, not freedom. – Lawrence Lessig
It is in the nature of tyranny to deride the will of the people as the voice of the mob, and to denounce the cry for freedom as the roar of anarchy. – William Safire
A tranquil city of good laws, fine architecture, and clean streets is like a classroom of obedient dullards, or a field of gelded bulls – whereas a city of anarchy is a city of promise. – Mark Helprin
Democracy destroys itself because it abuses its right to freedom and equality. Because it teaches its citizens to consider audacity as a right, lawlessness as a freedom, abrasive speech as equality, and anarchy as progress. – Isocrates
Also on this day: It’s Not Over ‘Til the Fat Lady Sings – In 1966, The Metropolitan Opera House opened.
Hero – In 1976, Shavarsh Karapetyan saved twenty from a submerged bus.
Sublime Tenor – In 1930, Enrico Caruso last entered a recording studio.
Nancy – In 1961, a typhoon hit Osaka, Japan.
GM Starts Here – In 1908, General Motors was founded.