Wall Street is an actual street in lower Manhattan. It has been near the center of the American economy for two centuries, and is associated with the stock market, banks and other financial institutions. Because of the association, the words “Wall Street” have come to mean the whole financial apparatus of banking and finance.
The conventional story of the name is that it comes literally from a wall, a defensive fortification built by the Dutch when New York City was New Amsterdam. The wall was torn down and the space used for a street, and called, naturally enough, Wall Street.
That may or may not be true. New Amsterdam was remarkably diverse for its time (it was Dutch from 1626 to 1664, when the English conquered New Netherland). One of the diverse groups was Walloon. The Walloons were (and still are) an ethnic group from what is now Belgium; they were Catholic and spoke dialects of French. That the Protestant Dutch allowed French-speaking Catholics to settle shows their tolerance of diversity.
So there was a street named for the Walloon settlers, ‘de Waal Straat.’ Take your pick, the street may be named after a wall, or after the Walloons.
But there are some other histories attached to Wall Street. New York City had a sizable number of slaves, and the city’s slave market was situated on Wall Street from 1711 to 1762. A more palatable bit of history is that Wall Street was the scene of the first U.S. Presidential Inauguration. On April 30, 1789, George Washington was sworn in as the first President, on a balcony in Federal Hall, and gave a speech to the crowds below, on Wall Street.
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