The year 1914 has no precedent in Stock Exchange history. At the present time (1915), when the great events that have come to pass are still close to us, even their details are vivid in our minds and we need no one to rehearse them. Time, however, is quick to dim even acute memories, and Wall Street, of all places, is the land of forgetfulness. The new happenings of all the World crowd upon each other so fast in the financial district that even the greatest and most far-reaching of them are soon driven out of sight. This being the case, it has seemed to the writer of these pages that some record should be kept among the brokerage fraternity of what was so great an epoch in their history, and that this record could best be written down by one who happened to be very favorably placed to know the story in its entirety.
Of course the archives of the Exchange will always contain the minutes of Committees and other documentary material embodying the story of the past, but this dry chronicle is never likely to see the light except when unearthed by law courts or legislative committees. It seems worth while, therefore, to disentangle the essential thread of the tale of 1914 from the mass of unreadable detail in the minute books, and put it in a shape where those who are interested may look it over.
This is not an easy task. To differentiate the interesting and the essential from the mass of routine material is, perhaps, not very difficult, but to present this segregated matter in a form that will not be monotonous is much more of a problem. The proceedings of a Committee that has been in continuous session must, when written down, partake of the nature of a diary, and to that extent be tiresome reading. We shall, therefore, have to ask the indulgence of any one who happens to look into these pages, and beg him to pass over the form for the sake of the substance. That the substance itself is of deep interest goes without saying. It was given to the Stock Exchange to play a great part in a momentous world crisis, and it must be of profound interest to know how that part was played.
Stock Exchanges are a relatively recent product of modern civilization, and like new comers in every field they are suspected and misunderstood. The most complex of all problems are economic problems, and the functions of Stock Exchanges form a most intricate part of political economy. It has, consequently, been a noticeable phenomenon in all contemporary industrial society that the activities of the stock markets have been a constant subject of agitation and legislative meddling. Most of this meddling has been based upon ignorance and misunderstanding, but in a broad view this ignorance and misunderstanding are excusable owing to the novelty and above all the great complexity of the factors at work. One of the needs of the time, therefore, is that the public, and their representatives in the Legislatures, should be enlightened as fast as possible with regard to the immensely important uses of these institutions, and to the operation of their very delicate machinery.
The World crisis of 1914 forced upon us an object lesson on the question of speculative exchanges in general which ought to be of lasting profit....