Abstract: The "Free and Open" "People's Market": Public Relations at the New York Stock Exchange, 1913-1929

Julia Ott


In 1913, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) stumbled into public relations to counteract threats of regulation in "the public interest." Transforming criticism into a legitimizing ideology, publicists conceptualized the stock market as a direct democracy, where investors' trading choices on member-regulated exchanges funded and legitimated corporate capitalism. While the NYSE accepted a public role rhetorically, it labored to ensure that no regulatory oversight would enforce public accountability. Its Committee on Library initially pursued a reactive strategy, including publication, image control, on-site library, press management, bucket shop elimination, and behind-the-scenes political pressure. World War One Liberty Loan and investor-protection campaigns taught Exchange publicists the value of pre-emption and cooperation, which culminated in the development of Better Business Bureau investor sections. External competition and internal rivalries precipitated strategic shifts in the 1920s. Public outcry after member Allan A. Ryan's corner in Stutz Motor Co. provided the final catalyst. After 1921, the NYSE's new Committee on Publicity transformed defensive publicity into pro-active public relations, adding visits and hosting, speaking tours, movies, and academic programs. From 1913 to the Crash of 1929, publicists defined the NYSE as the "free and open" "people's market" first to build a community of political sympathizers, then to expand NYSE members' retail markets.

BEH On-Line Paper