December 24: Financier Charles Dow Joins the New York Stock Exchange


Looking at the many hardships he faced during his Connecticut childhood, no one would have ever guessed that a young Charles Dow would one day become one of the biggest names in American financial history.  Born in Sterling in 1851 to a family of farmers, the deaths of Charles’ father and two brothers rendered him unable to pursue the formal education he craved in order to follow his boyhood dream of becoming a famous journalist.

Nevertheless, after spending the first part of his life supporting his mother by helping with the family farm, Dow headed north to Springfield, Massachusetts at the age of 21 where he became an apprentice to Samuel Bolles, the owner of the Springfield Republican newspaper.  After a few years of working behind the scenes at the newspaper, Bolles gave Dow his own byline as a city reporter, giving Dow the hands-on reporting experience he needed to become a respected journalist in his own right.  After five years of working in Springfield, Dow moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where he became a night editor for the Providence Journal and was assigned to cover the business beat.

Charles Dow (Library of Congress)

In 1879, Dow embarked on a lengthy journey that changed the course of his career.  At the request of the Journal, Dow traveled to Colorado amidst a group of bankers, investors, and politicians in order to report on mining operations and the boom towns popping up all over the state.  During the trip, Dow gained the confidence of his co-travelers and subsequently learned a great deal from them about how the world of high finance operated, especially what sort of information investors wanted and their views on capitalism and profit.

Fascinated with the subject, upon his return to the East Coast, Dow moved to New York City and worked for one of the city’s many financial news bureaus, inviting fellow Providence Journal reporter Edward Jones to join him.  The two men became quickly disillusioned with what they saw as a highly biased reporting environment, where financial bureaus would accept payments in exchange for their journalists writing biased articles in order to influence investors.  In late 1882, they formed Dow Jones & Company, a new agency that produced a daily afternoon newsletter containing an unbiased summary of that day’s financial news and trading reports with detailed analysis written by Dow and Jones. The newsletter also included the Dow Jones index, which represented the stocks of eleven companies that Dow and Jones felt were the most important American industries on the market. Circulation rates of their newsletter skyrocketed, and Dow was quickly recognized by Wall Street traders as a formidable financial insider.

Front page of the first issue of the Wall Street Journal, first published July 8, 1889.

On December 24, 1884, Charles Dow officially joined the New York Stock Exchange, marking the apex of his incredible and improbably journey from impoverished Connecticut farm boy to one of America’s titans of finance.  To this day, both the Dow Jones index and the Wall Street Journal newspaper his company founded in 1889 remain fundamental institutions of the New York Stock Exchange.

Further Reading

Humble Beginnings of the Dow Jones: How a Sterling Farmer Became the Toast of Wall Street,”