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  become one of the biggest names in American financial history. Dow was born in 1851 in Sterling 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  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 at 21 headed north to Springfield, Massachusetts  where he became an apprentice to Samuel Bolles, 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 Dow the hands-on reporting experience he needed to become a respected journalist. After spending five years on the beat in Springfield,  Dow advanced his career by moving to Rhode Island, where he became a night editor for the Providence Journal and was also assigned to cover the business beat.

Charles Dow (Library of Congress)

In 1879, the 28-year-old 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 that were then popping up all over the state. During the trip, Dow gained the confidence of his co-travelers and, a good listener, he learned a great deal from them about how the world of high finance operated. Most important, he learned the  kind of of information investors most wanted as well as their views on capitalism and profit.

Fascinated with the subject, as soon as  he got back to the East Coast, Dow moved to New York City and worked for one of the city’s many financial news bureaus.  iHe invited fellow Providence Journal reporter Edward Jones to join him there. The two men soon became disillusioned with what they saw as the financial district’s  highly biased, even corrupt, reporting environment. The city’s financial bureaus would accept payments, it seemed,  in exchange for having their journalists write slanted articles intended to influence investors.

Choosing a different path, in late 1882, the two men formed Dow Jones & Company. Working from an unpainted basement office across from the New York Stock Exchange,  Dow and Jones’s new agency  produced the “Customer’s Afternoon Letter” a daily afternoon bulletin 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 included the new Dow Jones index, which represented the stocks of eleven companies that Dow and Jones felt were the most important American industries on the market.

Time was of the essence in delivering the Afternoon Letter. As soon as Jones had finished each issue, he started yelling “Boy! Boy! to summon the messengers who would deliver the codes to subscribers. Te tall, bearded, but generally quiet and reserved Dow sat quietly beside Jones, a reserved Yankee though and through. Circulation rates of Customers’ Afternoon Letter skyrocketed.   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.

Two years later, on December 24, 1884, Charles Dow officially joined the New York Stock Exchange, which marked the apex of his incredible and improbable 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, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average they created in 1996,  remain fundamental institutions of the New York Stock Exchange.

Dow died at 51 in 1902, having managed in a brief lifetime to start one f the country’s greatest newspaper and leave an indelible imprint on the world financial industry.

Further Reading

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