The 1920 Wall Street bombing led to the deaths of 38 people and claimed hundreds of victims who were injured by the blast. The perpetrators of the Wall Street bombing were never discovered. There were no convictions for this early act of terrorism and this led to numerous conspiracy theories on who was to blame. The chief suspects were Italian anarchists (the followers of Luigi Galleani). Other Americans, gripped by the Red Scare, believed that communists were responsible.
Wall Street bombing Facts for kids: Fast Fact Sheet
Where was the Wall Street bombing? The 23 Wall Street bombing took place outside J. P. Morgan building in the heart of Wall Street on the corner of Wall and Broad Streets in Manhattan in New York City
When was the Wall Street bombing? The Wall Street bombing occurred at 12:01 pm on Thursday, September 16, 1920
Who was responsible for the Wall Street bombing? The perpetrators of the Wall Street bombing were never charged. There were many conspiracy theories however the people responsible for this early act of terrorism remain a mystery to this day. Conspiracy theories put the blame on Communists, as part of the 'Red Scare' but the most credible conspiracy theory was that the people responsible for the Wall Street bombing were Italian anarchists, the followers of Luigi Galleani.
Facts about 1920 Wall Street bombing
The 1920 Wall Street bombing followed a year of rapid inflation, high unemployment, race riots and civil unrest in America which was subject to protests, demonstrations and a series of crippling strikes. For additional facts refer to the Impact and Effects of WW1 on America.
There had been a few minor bomb attacks in the United States homeland during WW1 and the propaganda techniques of the Creel Commission had created anger and fear towards foreigners amongst American citizens.
These fears and beliefs were fueled by small, but highly vocal, groups of socialists, communists and anarchists who preached the downfall of the corrupt capitalist system and the coming revolution of the working classes.
The nation had become intolerant of immigrants and there was a strong belief that Communists and other radical groups were conspiring to start a a worker's revolution in America. The Red Scare had engulfed the nation.
The 1920 Wall Street bombing was perpetrated in a climate of fear and suspicion that resulted in numerous conspiracy theories as to who was responsible for the explosion.
The Wall Street bombing was an act of terrorism that occurred at 12:01 pm on Thursday, September 16, 1920. The bomb blast killed 38 people and nearly 300 people were injured, 143 seriously.
The bomb exploded on the corner of Wall and Broad Streets at the heart of the Financial District in Manhattan, New York City outside the J. P. Morgan bank building, the largest and most powerful financial institution in the world.
The bombing caused more than $2 million in damage. Scars from the explosion are still visible on the facade of 23 Wall Street today.
The timing of the explosion coincided with the lunch time rush on Wall Street. The people killed and injured were were ordinary, innocent American citizens who worked as clerks, chauffeurs, couriers, messengers, stenographers and brokers.
What happened? Shortly after noon a horse-drawn cart exploded on the corner of Wall and Broad Street in downtown Manhattan. The scale of the damage, and the carnage the blast caused were unimaginable.
The horse-drawn cart had been loaded with 100 pounds of dynamite. The attack was made more lethal by the 500 pounds of cast iron slugs packed in with the dynamite which acted as iron shrapnel. A large ball of fire and a cloud of green gas was created by the explosion.
The driver of the cart was presumed killed in the explosion and all that remained of the horse were its jawbone and its hooves.
Buildings within a half mile radius rocked and flying glass from shattered windows cause countless minor bloody injuries. Chunks of hot metal sprayed in all directions. Three victims of the blast could not be identified because their injuries were so bad. Some of the victims were decapitated and the bodies of other victims were badly mutilated.
Men and women were swept off their feet, including a stockbroker called Joseph P. Kennedy. Flying glass injured Ulysses S. Grant, the grandson of the civil war general and president, who worked in the Treasury building. J.P. Morgan was on vacation in Europe, but his son, Junius Morgan, was injured in the blast. J.P. Morgan’s chief clerk, Thomas Joyce, was killed instantly.
Policemen, firemen and ambulances raced to the scene over streets littered with debris and broken glass. A row of mutilated corpses covered with car blankets were lined up in the street.
Frantic rescuers worked to transport the wounded to the hospital, local police performed first aid and commandeered all nearby automobiles as emergency transport vehicles.
There was total confusion, at first some people thought the explosion was an accident, or that it had been caused by an aircraft bombing, but it quickly became clear that the horse and cart had held the explosives.
Around the corner, at the New York Stock Exchange, trading was suspended in order to head off a panic in the stock market and people rushed to the scene of the explosion to see what was happening..
Soldiers were called in from Governors Island in Upper New York Bay to set up a temporary security cordon around Wall Street. Clean-up crews worked through the night but, in doing so, all evidence that may have been left behind was lost.
The following day, New Yorkers returned to work, and the stock exchange bell rang as normal. The stock market soared, an indication that anarchy would never prevail.
By pure coincidence, arrangements had already been made to hold a small parade and ceremony on Friday 17th, to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787. Thousands gathered at the scene of the Wall Street bombing. A band, with fife and drum, played “The Star Spangled Banner.” The crowd then sang “America,” led by a WW1 veteran. Brigadier General William J. Nicholson who also made a patriotic speech.
Investigations into the Wall Street bombing started immediately and involved the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation (BOI, the forerunner of the FBI) and the police) led by William J. Flynn. The Federal investigators began to track the movements of foreign radicals and the NYPD, led by Arthur Carey, formed a “special or secret police” to monitor radical elements in New York City. J.P. Morgan hired his own private detectives to try to find the bombers.
The BOI released contents of flyers found in a mailbox in the Wall Street area the day after the bombing. The leaflets, printed in red ink on white paper declared:
"Remember, we will not tolerate any longer.
Statements from survivors were taken and an inspection of the site by mine explosion experts was conducted. The flyers and the initial investigations led investigators to immediately rule out an accident as the cause of the explosion. The conspiracy theories started...
Americans believed the bombing was planned by opponents of capitalism such as Bolsheviks, anarchists, communists, or militant socialists. A possible motive was that the bombing was an act of revenge for the arrests of Italian immigrants and anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti
The American public seldom distinguished between anarchists, socialists and communists, and dubbed them all 'Reds' or 'Bolshies'. The conspiracy theories included anybody who met this description as the Red Scare engulfed the nation.
The BOI and New York police investigated the case for over three years without success. They interviewed hundreds of people but developed little information of value. They occasionally made arrests but every time they failed to support indictments.
The most credible conspiracy theory was that the people who planned the Wall Street bombing were a group of Italian anarchists, the followers of Luigi Galleani, who had been deported on June 24, 1919. Mario Buda is alleged to be the man most likely responsible for the bombing.
Mario Buda was in New York City at the time of the Wall Street bombing but was never a suspect at the time or questioned by police. Both Luigi Galleani and Mario Buda were deported from the United States and returned to Italy. It later turned out that Mario Buda was experienced in the use of explosives, had built several package bombs for the Galleanists and was known to use iron shrapnel in his time bombs.
The history surrounding the Wall Street bombings encompasses the period known as the 'Red Scare' which included the Palmer Raids and one of the most famous trials in the history of the United States - the Sacco and Vanzetti case. The Wall Street bombing was one of the most serious early terrorism cases - and tragically was not the last to involve the city of New York.
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