What Was the Stock Market Crash of 1929?

What Was the Stock Market Crash of 1929?

5 Min.

In 1929, the stock market crash started on "Black Monday" on October 28. During heavy trading, worried investors caused the DJIA to drop almost 13%. The crash occurred after 10 years of economic progress and a bullish market. The Great Depression followed the market crash and lasted until World War II. To stabilize the markets, Congress passed federal regulations like the Glass Steagall Act of 1933.


In the fall of 1929, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) experienced a catastrophic plunge of nearly 13% on "Black Monday," October 28, 1929, signaling the onset of a financial catastrophe. Although initial panic selling gripped investors during the first week, the most substantial downturn unfolded over the subsequent two years, coinciding with the emergence of the Great Depression. On July 8, 1932, the DJIA reached its nadir, plummeting to a staggering 89% below its peak in September 1929. This precipitous fall marked the most profound bear market in the annals of Wall Street. It would take until 1954 for the market to recover and reach its 1929 pinnacle again.

Exploring the Stock Market Crash of 1929

After a five-year rise in the DJIA, the stock market crashed in 1929. During this period, industrial enterprises traded at price-to-earnings ratios (P/E ratios) surpassing 15, seemingly justified by a decade of remarkable manufacturing productivity growth. However, a surplus of steel, iron, and durable goods due to overproduction plagued numerous industries. The oversupply, coupled with diminished demand and a lack of buyers, prompted manufacturers to offload their products at a loss. Consequently, share prices spiraled downward.

To curtail rampant investor speculation, the Federal Reserve opted to increase the rediscount rate from 5% to 6% in August 1929. Some experts argue that this move hampered economic expansion and eroded stock market liquidity, rendering the markets more susceptible to abrupt price declines.

The State of Public Utilities in 1929

In 1929, a significant portion of the electric sector had undergone consolidation, with holding companies dominating approximately two-thirds of the American industry landscape. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had already sounded the alarm in 1928, highlighting the unfair practices prevalent among these holding companies. These practices included exploiting subsidiaries through service contracts and engaging in deceptive accounting practices involving depreciation and inflated property values, all of which seriously threatened investors.

By October 1929, amid the introduction of new legislation aimed at regulating the public utilities sector, a chain reaction of selling ensued. Investors who had leveraged margin trading were compelled to liquidate their holdings, precipitating a market-wide sell-off.

Bank Failures' Role in the Great Depression

Amid the turbulent times of the Great Depression, the Federal Reserve initially hesitated to address the stock market crash, allowing a wave of bank failures to engulf the financial system. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon's advice to President Herbert Hoover was stark: "Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate…It'll purge the rottenness out of the system."

The crash's impact was further aggravated by the collapse of foreign bonds. The disappearance of vendor-financed demand for American goods, fueled by funds lent to overseas borrowers, contributed to the crisis. By the crash's conclusion, the market had shed $30 billion in value, equivalent to approximately $528 billion in today's currency.

The stock market crash was a harbinger of the Great Depression, resulting in 15 million Americans losing their jobs and half of the nation's banks collapsing by 1933. The economy witnessed a sharp decline in production and demand, leading to widespread breadlines and homelessness. Farmers, faced with grim circumstances, were forced to abandon crops, leading to starvation. Droughts in the south, causing high winds and the infamous Dust Bowl, drove many farmers to seek employment in cities.

Post-1929 Legislative Responses

Following the cataclysmic events of the Great Depression, a new era dawned, characterized by isolationism, protectionism, and nationalism. The infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 marked the onset of a troubling trend of beggar-thy-neighbor economic policies. The absence of effective government oversight, grounded in laissez-faire economic principles, was widely acknowledged as a contributing factor to the 1929 market crash. In response, Congress took proactive steps to implement federal regulations aimed at stabilizing the financial markets.

In 1933, the Glass-Steagall Act emerged as a pivotal piece of legislation. It compelled commercial banks to abstain from engaging in investment banking activities, shielding depositors from potential losses from bank speculation. Simultaneously, this act gave birth to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), bolstering the security of bank deposits.

In 1934, the Securities Exchange Act was introduced to regulate securities transactions on the secondary market, fostering enhanced financial transparency while mitigating the risk of fraud and manipulation.

Finally, the Public Utility Holding Companies Act was established in 1935 to break down the biggest electric companies in the country. This was done to prevent the negative effects that could arise from the failure of a single company on a larger scale.


Several pivotal elements converged to precipitate the 1929 stock market crash. These included substantial market speculation, burgeoning debt levels, a slump in both production and consumer spending and a beleaguered agricultural sector. These factors culminated in a catastrophic event on October 28, 1929, when panicked investors triggered a nearly 13% decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This catastrophic market downturn signaled the beginning of the Great Depression, which lasted until World War II.

Stock Market Crash of 1929
Market Crash