28 October 1886: Wall Street’s first ticker tape parade

The dedication of the Statue of Liberty on 28 October 1886 set the scene for the first ticker tape parade. New York City was in full carnival mode that morning with raucous crowds waving French and American flags. 

President Grover Cleveland led the procession through the streets of the city, passing jubilant spectators, vying with one another to catch a glimpse of the parade. 

As the parade passed up Wall Street, out of the windows several mischievous “imps of office boys…  began to unreel the spools of tape that record the fateful messages of the ‘ticker’”, a journalist for The New York Times reported. “In a moment, the air was white with curling streamers”. 

The ticker tape was a reel of long, thin paper that fed into the ‘stock ticker’ – a device connected to the telegraph system. It tracked the day’s financial data, making a ticking sound as it printed – hence the name. But of course, the office boys of Wall Street had found a far more inventive use for the tape that day. 

Far from finding themselves in trouble, our reporter wrote that it “was altogether too much fun, and the office boys had to give way to their elders… every window appeared to be a paper mill spouting out squirming lines of tape. Such was Wall Street’s novel celebration.” 

New York took to the ticker tape parade as its own quirky style of celebration. Presidents, generals, aviators, astronauts and sporting champions have all been feted under a snow-storm of confetti, resembling a sort of modern-day Roman-style ‘triumph’ through the city. Although, these days, the ticker tape is mainly reserved for triumphs of a sporting nature (which says a lot about modern values). 

And of course, Bloomberg terminals and electronic trading have long since replaced stock tickers on Wall Street. But find yourself on the ‘Canyon of Heroes’ on the right day, and you might still find yourself on the receiving end of several tonnes of paper.