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“Wall Street Bears,” cartoon by Clifford Berryman, April 30, 1932

Cartoonist Clifford Berryman expressed popular contempt for Wall Street “bears,” investors who sold large quantities of stock in anticipation of falling prices. The stock market reached its lowest point in March 1932, 85 percent below its October 1929 value. Stock manipulators, Berryman commented, made gangsters and racketeers seem like cautious amateurs.

U.S. Senate Collection, National Archives and Records Administration

“Wall Street Bears,” cartoon by Clifford Berryman, April 30, 1932

The Stock Market Crash

The 1929 New York stock market crash propelled an economic collapse that resulted in the Great Depression. To understand the cause of the financial crash, the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency investigated Wall Street banking and investment practices. Informally named after its astute and dynamic chief counsel, Ferdinand Pecora, the Pecora Committee exposed practices that, while legal, were judged unethical. Congress drew on the committee’s discoveries to restructure the banking and securities industries, approving the Banking Act in 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act in 1934.

[Financial lobbyists] are powerful, but they are not powerful enough to defy Congress. They are strong, but they are not strong enough to obstruct the Government. At least that is my hope.

Senator Duncan Fletcher of Florida, Speech to the Senate, May 7, 1934