September 16, 1920: Bomb in Horse-Drawn Wagon Kills 38 on Wall Street and Injures Hundreds More!

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A Brief History

On September 16, 1920, years before the great stock market crashes of 1929 and 2008, some unknown, disaffected malcontents showed the fat cats of Wall Street some serious financial terrorism of their own by setting off a bomb in a horse-drawn wagon in front of J.P. Morgan Bank in New York’s financial district.

Digging Deeper

The perpetrators were never caught, and anarchists to members of various revolutionary and anti-capitalist groups were suspected.  Investigation showed that the bomb consisted of 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of metal sash weights meant to act as projectiles.  The bomb was set off with a timer, and, of course, the wagon’s driver was not around when it went off. 

The massive explosion killed 38 people and the horse and seriously injured at least 143 more.  200 to 300 more people suffered lesser injuries but were still stunned and bleeding.  The blast caused massive property damage as well, with estimated damages of $2 million (at least $23 million in today’s dollars).

One quick-thinking 17-year-old messenger stole a car and shuttled 30 injured people to the hospital, while others tended likewise to the injured and dying.  To avoid a panic, trading on the New York Stock Exchange was quickly shut down.

The Wall Street Bombing had been the worst terrorist act in the history of the United States to that point, and the Bureau of Investigation branch of the Justice Department, forerunner to the FBI, was baffled by the crime.  The possibility of an accidental explosion was initially surmised, and the investigation was further foiled by the rapid and eager cleanup of the scene to allow business as usual the next day.  Not only was no suspect ever tried for the crime, but investigators were not sure who the intended victim or victims were.  Was the target merely random passersby?  Or was the bomb meant to kill a particular person who usually walked down that street at noon?

One theory is that the bomb was retaliation for the miscarriage of justice when Sacco and Venzetti had been arrested for robbery just a few months before.   Another theory is that the bomb was left by Italian anarchists who were upset over the deportation of their leader, Luigi Galeani.  President Harding’s administration even investigated the possibility of Soviet involvement.  The leading theory, however, seems to center on the Italian anarchists who had been engaging in a bombing campaign throughout the U.S. for years before the Wall Street Bombing and would continue to do so for 12 years after.  Still, if this group was truly responsible, it is not conclusively known.

Should people express their discontent with bombs?  Apparently this form of expression has been going on for a long time, and is not just a recent development.  Will it ever end?  Let us know what you think.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.