Most people are pretty familiar with the boom-and-bust cycle of the stock market by the time they reach adulthood. Maybe your first brush with it came when you had to ask your mom why dad was spending so much time crying in the garage, or maybe you spent a lot of time crying in your garage. Either way, the popping of a speculative bubble can be incredibly tough. Investors who have usually spent years pouring effort into making money hand over fist suddenly discover that it’s all been smoke and mirrors and they’re flat broke.
As panic spreads, it can often go beyond just the speculators and start to lay waste to the retirement savings of average Americans. Some of that emotional shock is captured in these stock market crash photos from four of the biggest stock market crashes in American history: 1929, 1987, 2000 and 2008.
Last updated: Aug. 2, 2019
The Roaring ’20s was a period of big gains on the stock market and a seemingly booming economy, but beneath it ran serious cracks in the economic infrastructure that didn’t show until it was too late. On Oct. 28, 1929, the markets declined a stunning 13%. It followed that up with another 12% on Oct. 29, dubbed Black Tuesday, beginning a free fall that continued for three years and culminated with a close in the summer of 1932 that was 89% below its peak.
A Crowd Gathers Outside the Brooklyn Branch of the Bank of the United States
It’s easy to forget for generations of Americans who grew up under the protective shell of the FDIC, but before deposits were guaranteed, your savings could be erased by a run on the bank. Pictured here is a crowd gathering outside a bank in Brooklyn after the stock market crash in 1929. Crashing stock markets caused ripple effects across the broader economy, with many Americans discovering that their investments had dramatically slumped.
Crowds Gather Outside the Bank of the United States After Its Failure
While the stock market crash was a major driver of the Great Depression, the collapse of the banking system that followed arguably played an even bigger role. The failure of many major banks turned big losses for stock investors into a massive credit crunch that saw millions of American families financially wiped out and without work. Some 744 banks would fail in the first 10 months of 1930 alone and depositors would have $140 billion vanish due to bank failure by 1933 — the equivalent of $2.8 trillion today.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt Signing the Banking Act of 1935
The FDIC was created as a result of the banking collapse and the wave of new regulation that followed. Among those regulations was the framework for much of the country’s security laws and measures to ensure consumers are confident their bank deposits are safe — even in times of tremendous chaos.
Unemployed Men Lined Up Outside a Soup Kitchen in Chicago
The calamity of the Great Depression led to mass unemployment. The nationwide rate would reach 25%, with certain pockets suffering even more. African-American unemployment would reach 66%, and four out of five industrial workers in Toledo, Ohio, couldn’t find work. Bereft of resources or options, many Americans huddled into “Hoovervilles” — temporary living spaces for the unemployed — or were left begging in the streets. These men have lined up outside a soup kitchen in Chicago that, interestingly enough, was opened by legendary gangster Al Capone.
While there were periodic booms and busts, it was nearly 60 years until there was another major crash in stock prices on the level of 1929. The collapse on Oct. 19, 1987, was dubbed Black Monday, and while the broader economic effects were less severe than the 1929 crash, the short-term effect on the stock market was even more pronounced.
Cars Lined Up at Gas Station
The energy crisis of the 1970s left the country facing gasoline shortages and creating lines extending miles outside gas stations. What followed hot on its heels was a brutal double-dip recession that left much of America struggling through the morass of stagflation and unemployment.
New York Stock Exchange Trading Floor
The newly elected Reagan administration slashed taxes upon arrival in 1981, helping put more money back in the hands of stock traders and investors after the long downturn in the market had ended. The move helped drive the stock market to new highs and created fortunes for a generation of yuppies across America.
Traders on the Floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Black Monday
The boom times of the 1980s came to a sudden halt on Black Monday when the stock market experienced the largest crash in its history. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 22.61%, nearly double the size of 1929’s Black Thursday that helped kick off the Great Depression.
Senior Citizens Watching the Crash at a Retirement Home
While the aftermath of Black Monday was clearly much less severe than that of Black Thursday, the ripple effects of the single-day crash sent shivers across America. Here, you can see senior citizens watching coverage of the crash on television from their retirement home.
The advent of the internet has proven to be one of the most revolutionary economic developments in human history. However, its massive potential is partially the reason the earliest internet businesses rapidly overheated off of an excess of enthusiasm. During the booming economy of the 1990s, the value of investments in a wide variety of internet companies exploded, only to come crashing back to earth over the course of 2000 and 2001, leaving many early web companies out of business.
Pets.com Sock Puppet in Rockefeller Plaza
The earliest days of the internet were filled with possibilities. The enormity of the change presented by a global information network was hard to wrap your head around, and it prompted a truly unprecedented rush of money into venture capital. Since virtually any business could potentially be revolutionized by the internet, it led to money flooding to a wide, wide variety of sectors — many of which had little to no hope of becoming profitable at any point soon.
The massive influx of both private and public investment created a generation of internet companies that rode the tidal wave of money only to come crashing down when the bubble burst. Among the most notorious was Pets.com, which went on a real roller coaster in 2000. In January, the company ran an ad during the Super Bowl at a cost of $1.2 million. In February, it made its debut on public markets with an IPO that raised $82.5 million. However, the market crash in April spelled doom, and Pets.com was out of business by early November.
GeoCities Employees Celebrate Being Acquired by Yahoo
The difficulty in establishing concrete values for various business verticals played into a series of deals that seem positively insane in retrospect. One such deal is the decision made by Yahoo to purchase GeoCities for $3.6 billion in January 1999.
Two Traders Watching Plunging Stock Prices at the New York Stock Exchange
The crash that followed the dot-com bubble is one of the rare instances where a meltdown seemingly moved in slow motion. While there were ugly periods — including one week where the Nasdaq plunged 25% — it took months for the markets to really unwind much of the wild optimism that had driven up the value of investments in a variety of internet companies.
The plunge began in March 2000, but the tech-heavy Nasdaq wouldn’t reach its nadir until the fall of 2002. However, it lost nearly 80% of its peak value in the process, going from over 5,000 at its peak to just over 1,100 by its low point in September 2002.
Jeff Bezos, June 2000
However, despite the excessive enthusiasm and dramatic decline surrounding the earliest days of investing in internet startups, some of the most prominent players in the years to come survived the crash and went on to thrive.
Few are more notable than Amazon, which has since briefly held the title as the world’s most valuable company. However, from its peak value in 1999, Amazon lost about 95% of its value to its 2001 low point. At one point, shares traded for less than $6 a share — a stock that is worth nearly $2,000 a share today.
While there were nearly 60 years between the crashes in 1929 and 1987, only seven years separate the collapse of the dot-com bubble and the 2008 financial crisis that laid waste to the American economy. The huge run-up of real estate investing driven by a mortgage market that was becoming unhinged resulted in a major stock market crash in 2008. It gave way to a lengthy recovery that saw unemployment remain stubbornly high and wages stubbornly low for years.
Employees Leaving Lehman Brothers After Its Bankruptcy
The crash in 2008 didn’t come out of nowhere. In fact, concerns about the housing bubble had been swirling since 2007. But once the full reckoning with the excesses of the mortgage market from the preceding few years began to take hold, it materialized in shockingly rapid fashion.
Few moments of this collapse stand out more than the end of investment bank Lehman Brothers. After being in business for over 150 years, the firm came to an abrupt and unceremonious end in 2008 after its portfolio of toxic, subprime mortgage securities began to collapse like a house of cards.
Washington Mutual Branch Transitioning to Chase
Without the intervention of the federal government and billions of dollars in bailout money, it’s hard to say just how many more major banks might have had to close completely. However, part of propping up the major banks was that it allowed them to make major acquisitions of troubled firms to avoid a total liquidation.
Among the most active in this regard was JPMorgan Chase, which jumped on the chance to rescue Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual from an untimely demise by buying up the companies.
President Barack Obama Signing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
The timing of the crash put it right in the midst of a major presidential campaign and resulted in the incoming Obama administration arriving to markets that were on life support. That meant that a stimulus bill was among the top priorities for the newly elected Democratic Congress and White House.
While economists continue to debate its effectiveness — many believe things could have been much worse without it — the short-term results of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act failed to knock the country out of its doldrums and jump-start the economy. It would be years of slow recovery before the country would recover from the housing crisis.
Occupy Wall Street Protests
Anger over the overreaches by investment bankers and mortgage lenders helped generate a new generation of activists. The Occupy Wall Street protests showed increasing dissatisfaction with the country’s financial industry and outrage over the practices that had created the subprime mortgage bubble. It began as a simple protest and quickly accelerated into a two-month occupation of Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, with about 200 protesters occupying some 100 tents by the time the park was cleared.
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About the Author
Joel Anderson is a business and finance writer with over a decade of experience writing about the wide world of finance. Based in Los Angeles, he specializes in writing about the financial markets, stocks, macroeconomic concepts and focuses on helping make complex financial concepts digestible for the retail investor.