The younger crowd, and those in the older crowd who don’t remember high school history, might suspect that Black Tuesday was some sort of holiday-shopping event of yesteryear. Most people, however, recognize Black Tuesday—the day when the stock market crashed in 1929—as the start of the Great Depression. While the reality was not quite so simple and myths about the Great Depression abounded, there were multiple identifiable factors that led to the massive economic decline of the 1930s. October 29, 1929, stands out as such a clear and definitive beginning of the financial end.
To make a long story short, Black Tuesday occurred when the economic uncertainty that had been building through the Roaring ‘20s, with its excessive spending and over-crediting, came to a head. Black Tuesday was actually precipitated by Black Thursday on October 24, when several savvy investors sold their stocks, anticipating a crash in the market. This ended up being a self-fulfilling prophecy, as panicked investors saw this sudden dip in stocks and rushed to sell their own shares on Black Tuesday. This tanked the stock market immediately, and it set in motion a series of devastating effects that would alter the United States of America forever.
The stereotypical depiction of Black Tuesday is stock brokers lining up to jump to their deaths from office buildings in financial despair. Of course, this didn't actually happen. Suicides did spike in the wake of the crash, and some of those people did leap from buildings, but not all of that was tied directly to the crash itself. In reality, the suicide rate had been rising throughout the 1920s; it didn't suddenly explode with the economic crisis, and certainly not in the middle of a single week.
One very direct death caused by Black Tuesday, however, was that of J.J. Riordan. A New York banker, Riordan had lost all of his personal savings in the crash and took his own life shortly thereafter. He didn't jump from a building, either. He shot himself with a pistol.
Black Tuesday was really more of a “Black Week” that lasted from Thursday, October 24, 1929, until the Friday of the next week. On that day, Wall Street finally closed its doors and stopped all selling for a few days in order to “clean up.” To be fair, the massive amount of human activity at the Stock Exchange did require quite a bit of actual cleaning up. However, the real reason for the shutdown was to give both employees and investors a chance to chill out. It didn't exactly work out that way.
Just how big was the “crash” of October 29, 1929? Really big. The value of the stock market had been steadily rising throughout the ‘20s, and it had hit a truly exponential rate of growth at the end of the decade, doubling in value between the end of 1928 and September of 1929. The bubble was due to burst, however, and, when it did, it burst in epic fashion. Between Black Thursday and Black Tuesday, more than $26 billion in stock value was lost. When the damage was tallied the day after Black Tuesday, brokers were astonished to discover that $14 billion had been lost in one day. It would take 25 years for the market to regain the value it had in September of 1929.
The stock market crash and Great Depression are often thought of as purely American events, but that’s not the case. In fact, in the wake of World War I, the world had become highly dependent on the American economy, and when the US went down, other nations did, too. Black Tuesday precipitated other stock market crashes around the world in a chain of events that helped plunge most of the globe into economic depression. Canada was hit particularly hard, with stock market crashes occurring in Montreal and Toronto shortly after Black Tuesday.