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 young Charles Dow would one day become one of the biggest names in American financial history. Dow was born in 1851 in Stirling to a family of farmers. Because his father and two brothers all died when he was young, Charles was unable to pursue the formal education he needed  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 Dow worked a few years behind the scenes at the newspaper, Bolles gave him his own byline as a city reporter.  This provided the hands-on reporting experience Dow needed to become a respected journalist in his own right. After five years in Springfield, Dow moved to 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,  to report on mining operations and the boom towns then popping up all over the state. During the trip, Dow gained the confidence of his co-travelers and 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 having their journalists write  biased articles in order to influence investors. In late 1882, the two men 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, along with 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 as a successor to the original newsletter, 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,”