Today In History: The First Stock Ticker Is Put Into Use

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Today in 1867, the first stock ticker ever used on the stock exchange went into use in New York City. The ticker radically changed how the stock market worked, giving investors realtime updates on price fluctuations.

Before the stock ticker was invented, investors around the country were reliant upon message couriers or the postal system for updates from the New York Stock Exchange. This system, which had been in place since 1792, was totally altered by the advent of the stock ticker.

It was invented by a man named Edward Calahan. Calahan moved to New York City in 1861 and lived in Brooklyn. He was the chief telegrapher for the Western Union telegraph company’s New York office. There, he observed messenger boys running stock information from the Stock Exchange to the Western Union offices to report on share prices. Calahan concluded that this job could be much more officially done with telegraph technology. If each broker’s office was equipped with a telegraph machine that could print out stock information, the “runners” would be rendered a thing of the past. He implemented his idea successfully and actually invented ticker tape in the process, in 1867.

Calahan was an employee of the Gold & Stock Telegraph Company. GSTC rented tickers to various regional stock exchanges and brokerages, and then transmitted up-to-date prices for gold and stocks to all of the machines simultaneously. Calahan’s ticker was a great invention, but wasn’t perfect. None other than Thomas Edison improved upon Calahan’s design, producing his own patented stock ticker.

It was actually Edison’s first profitable invention. Thanks to revenue from the sale of his improved stock tickers, he had enough funds to open a lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey. This lab would be where Edison famously invented the phonograph and the light bulb.

The analog ticker was eventually rendered obsolete by newer, more sophisticated digital tickers. The last analog ticker was installed in 1960.

Stock tickers display a stock’s symbol, followed by how many shares were traded on that particular day, as well as a share’s price. Contrary to what you might assume, there is no uniformity among stock tickers. Data companies use a variety of different ticker models, each of which can display different stock information in different formats.

Edward Calahan was overshadowed by Thomas Edison in notoriety, but Calahan was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006 for his contributions to technology. While his name isn’t as known as Edison’s, he exerted a significant influence on the way the modern world functions.

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