16 September 1920: The Wall Street bombing

It’s just coming up to midday on a Thursday on Wall Street. Office clerks, messengers and brokers, out for lunch, jostle with one another on the pavement. Nobody takes much notice of the horse-drawn cart that comes trundling up the road. It stops outside the JP Morgan building, blocking the traffic. The driver gets out and walks away.

The cacophony of street noise almost drowns out the sound of a bell ringing noon in the distance – and the sound of ticking coming from the back of the cart. Seconds later, on 16 September 1920 at one minute past the hour, 45kg of dynamite explodes, spraying out shrapnel.

Thirty people were killed outright. Then a shower of glass rained down, injuring hundreds more. Another eight people later died of their wounds.

Around the corner at the New York Stock Exchange, trading was suspended in order to head off a panic in the market.

Nobody was ever caught, and to this day, who was responsible remains a mystery. However, suspicion rested heavily on the shoulders of a man called Mario Buda. Buda was an Italian immigrant and anarchist, who belonged to a group called the Galleanists.

A possible motive for the mass murder was the arrest of two Galleanists, Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco, on murder and robbery charges. The pair were later sent to the electric chair. Buda returned to Italy and died there in 1963.

The bomb caused $2m in damage – about $24m in today’s money. The crime scene was hastily cleaned up before the police could properly investigate. The next morning, the stock exchange bell rang as normal.

One historian has claimed the investment bank, JP Morgan & Co, was disinclined to dwell on the event, fearing it would be bad for business. And so, the bombing soon faded from memory. But while the bombing has to a large extent been forgotten, the scars are still visible on Wall Street today.