Today, the Walking Liberty Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the impact to the Stock Market in 1916 of President Wilson’s messages to the belligerent powers and Secretary Lansing’s follow-up explanations.
The U.S. was under the threat of war but had not officially joined the fight.
The next day’s newspapers provided insights into the historical trading frenzy on the stock market.
From the Spartanburg [SC] Herald and the Lewiston [ME] Daily Sun:
New York, Dec. 21 —
The stock market today went through the most exciting day in its history with one exception.
President Wilson’s note to the belligerent powers, followed by Secretary Lansing’s first explanatory statement of its intent, were the occasion of frenzied selling which in scope and volume fairly dwarfed all the operations which followed on the peace proposals from Germany.
Prices were slaughtered to the extent of five, ten and fifteen points, in one case 33, and the day’s sales aggregated 3,176,000 shares, a total without precedent since the famous Northern Pacific corner of 1901.
The decline was virtually unchecked, only a few nominal rallies marking the trading of the final hour.
The liquidation of the forenoon aggregating more than 1,300,000 shares alone was confined, as has been the case in the recent operations, to the so-called “war brides,” or stocks which might be adversely affected by the declaration of peace, but soon after the publication of Secretary Lansing’s statement suggesting that the United States was “drawing nearer to the verge of war,” rails also began to participate in the decline, selling off sharply with losses of from four to eight points before the close.
Brokers’ offices long before the opening were loaded with selling orders, and when the gong on the floor of the exchange sounded for the trading to begin, there was a scene of excitement such as even veteran traders had not witnessed in many years.
Traders surged around the posts of the popular speculative stocks, each with a huge accumulation of orders to dispose of. Opening offers were so wide apart that sales one or two points different occurred simultaneously.
The first transactions recorded by the ticker showed losses ranging from 2 to 7 points.
United States Steel which was at the forefront throughout the day, first appeared on the tape with a transaction of 50,000 shares representing a lumping together of numerous selling orders at 104.5 to 105.5, but creating a tremendous sensation.
The trading from thence on was furious and the excitement throughout the street intense.
The brokers’ offices were thronged with nervous customers, many of whom had to see their accounts sold out for lack of margins or to watch rapidly falling prices reach their “stop-loss” orders.
The private wires of commission houses were choked with selling orders from all parts of the country, particularly during the afternoon trading.
The ticker soon fell far behind in recording the sales.
During the first half hour there were recoveries of from 2 to 7 points when the loss mercurial shares found some support, but renewal of pressure on Steel and other leaders was the signal for another flood of offerings.
This weakness continued until noon, subject to occasional rallies of a point or two, and then, after the publication of Secretary Lansing’s statement, another heavy selling movement set in, which continued actively until the close.
The Walking Liberty Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of the curb market with brokers signaling their orders, circa early 1900s.