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The First Wall Street

Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, and the Birth of American Finance

When Americans think of investment and finance, they think of Wall Street—though this was not always the case. During the dawn of the Republic, Philadelphia was the center of American finance. The first stock exchange in the nation was founded there in 1790, and around it the bustling thoroughfare known as Chestnut Street was home to the nation’s most powerful financial institutions.

The First Wall Street recounts the fascinating history of Chestnut Street and its forgotten role in the birth of American finance. According to Robert E. Wright, Philadelphia, known for its cultivation of liberty and freedom, blossomed into a financial epicenter during the nation’s colonial period. The continent’s most prodigious minds and talented financiers flocked to Philly in droves, and by the eve of the Revolution, the Quaker City was the most financially sophisticated region in North America. The First Wall Street reveals how the city played a leading role in the financing of the American Revolution and emerged from that titanic struggle with not just the wealth it forged in the crucible of war, but an invaluable amount of human capital as well.

This capital helped make Philadelphia home to the Bank of the United States, the U.S. Mint, an active securities exchange, and several banks and insurance companies—all clustered in or around Chestnut Street. But as the decades passed, financial institutions were lured to New York, and by the late 1820s only the powerful Second Bank of the United States upheld Philadelphia’s financial stature. But when Andrew Jackson vetoed its charter, he sealed the fate of Chestnut Street forever—and of Wall Street too.

Finely nuanced and elegantly written, The First Wall Street will appeal to anyone interested in the history of the United States and the origins of its unrivaled economy.

Read an excerpt.

218 pages | 3 line drawings, 9 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Culture Studies

Economics and Business: Business--Industry and Labor, Economics--History, Economics--Money and Banking, Economics--Urban and Regional

History: American History, General History


“In his lively, absorbing look at the early history of America’s financial markets, Wright brings to life the financiers and their institutions with colorful prose that teases out the human drama beneath the ledgers and account books. . . . Both a history of the nation’s first financial capital and a surprisingly understandable financial primer . . . the book will appeal to readers interested in America’s economic history and those wanting a better handle on banking and investing.”

Publishers Weekly

"Students of early national and financial history will profit from this work. Wright’s narrative resurrects much long-forgotten informaition, and his analysis effectively underpins his broad thesis: Without financial markets and institutions to serve them, economic growth and modernization are impossible. Wright is at his best when explaining with remarkable clarity, the complex financial conditions that accounted for Chestnut Street’s dominance."

Carl Lane | Journal of American History

"If looking for an entertaining stroll through the rise and fall of Philadelphia as the hub of American finance from the late colonial period to the Bank War, one needs to go no further. . . . Effectively bridging academic and non-academic audiences is a difficult feat indeed, but one that we have come to expect from a scholar as prolific as Wright."

Peter L. Rousseau | EH.Net

"An outstanding, accessible account of Philadelphia’s status as the nation’s first financial center. Robert Wright has written a breezy, clear, and humorous history of the city’s central role as the American capital of banking and related industries."

Kyle Farley | Pennsylvania Magazine of History

"Wright, a distinguished historian of early American finance, has written an unusual book that will interest both history buffs and academic historians. . . . The prose is lively and the explanations clear; the short discussion of money is perhaps the best introduction to that complex subject now available, and can be read with profit by any scholar forced to confront the complexities of monetary history."

Russell R. Menard | American Historical Review

"Wright reminds us that prior to Wall Street’s ascendance in the 1830s, Chestnut Street in Philadelphia was the nation’s financial center and the birthplace of some of America’s most important financial innovations. . . . Wright succeeds in his aim to engage both the scholarly and general reader and has produced an important contribution to the history of early American finance."

Daniel Holt | Enterprise & Society

Table of Contents

1. Of Financial Markets and Marketplaces     
2. Colonial Precedents           
3. Revolutionary Developments          
4. Money, Money, Money     
5. Hamilton’s Vision  
6. Hazardous Voyages           
7. Building Nest Eggs and Homes      
8. Transportation Elation        
9. Philadelphia’s Finest          
10. Wall Street Ascendant       
11. Legacy of Growth  

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