It is difficult to convince the average person from without that everyone who transacts business in lower New York is not a banker, a money broker, or in some way directly connected with the Stock Exchange. The tradition has gone abroad that the only trading below the City Hall is trading in stocks, and that “down town” really means “Wall Street.” Of course, it is not so. The people about the Stock Exchange, and the folk that press along the narrow width of Wall Street from Broad to Broadway, give one an exaggerated impression. There is trading going on in and about these streets without a doubt, a great volume of it; but there are also other transactions, taking place in other places near at hand, that have little or nothing to do with securities transactions carried on by people who never go near the Stock Exchange and never trade in stocks of any kind.
There is another impression abroad among strangers to the effect that most of the business of Wall Street is transacted on the sidewalk. The phrase “in the Street” has been taken too literally, as meaning that operators in the stock market carry on business involving millions in an unconventional shirt-sleeve manner while leaning against a lamp post, or smoking a cigarette in a restaurant. True enough, there are brokers who deal in securities on the sidewalk, securities of all kinds; and sometimes the transactions of this curb market are of some volume. And, true again it is, that the final word in a great “deal” may at times be passed by the head of one house to the head of another house while meeting casually in the street, or in some midday lunching club. But, generally speaking, business is not transacted that way. It is a little more formal, even in a great democracy. The bulk of sales are made indoors, on the exchanges. The crowd in the street means little more in barter and sale at the corner of Wall and Broad than along the sidewalk of Park Row or about Bowling Green.
There are so many people pushing along the sidewalks, or hurrying from curb to curb in the lower city, that the superficial observer quickly concludes that all the world is afoot and moving. That is another common mistake. The great throng of humanity that pours into Broadway and its side streets must go somewhere, else it would speedily choke up and fill the thoroughfares. As a matter of fact it begins to melt away as soon as it arrives. It disappears in side entrances, in hallways, down basements, up elevator shafts. Swinging circular doors, compressed air doors, slam doors, receive it. Iron wickets, steel gates, bronze grilles, open and close for it. There is a slide and a click of the door, something like a long breath from the elevator, and almost before one can count his fingers he has arrived at the twentieth story. The number of people in the streets is enormous, but there are ten times the number seated on stools and chairs in the countless offices of the tall buildings. The great crowd is within rather than without. The committee on the Congestion of Population has estimated that if all the people in all the lower city left their offices for the street at one time, it would require six layers of sidewalks like the present ones to accommodate them.
It is not the sky-scraper alone that absorbs the multitude, though it does its share. The old-time granite and sandstone “blocks,” the iron-clads of the seventies, even the ramshackle brick buildings slipping away toward the rivers, do service in the providing of office room. And it is remarkable how very little room is required to do a very extensive and prosperous business that is, if one chooses to judge by advertisement and letter-head alone. Desk space is at a premium everywhere, and a spot large enough to hold two chairs is often vantage ground sufficient for a Napoleon of finance to dazzle the back country with his weekly bulletin of “points” on Wall Street. But aside from such pretension there is a great volume of business done in very small space in lower New York. The demand for quarters creates an exaggerated price, and “office rent” is a large item in the yearly budget of every concern. Yet, large or small, the office is a desideratum. It is headquarters, and there transactions receive their last analysis and are paid for.
There are zones or districts in this lower town that seem sacred to certain kinds of business, and where other kinds do not flourish, practically do not exist at all. It seems that by some social instinct, or feeling of mutual protection, the birds of a feather are disposed to flock together. The stock and bond people flock around Wall Street, which, of course, means a district more than a street, the produce brokers form another group around Bowling Green, the shipping agents gather along lower Broadway, the insurance men between Wall and the City Hall, the coal and iron men on Courtlandt, and so on. The nucleus in each case is usually formed by an “exchange” where operators meet to get information, and to give and take orders. The interest of these exchanges, to the visitor, largely hinges upon the apparently .excited movements of the operators. The Stock Exchange is the one usually visited by the country cousins in Gotham, who sometimes come away with the impression that .they have seen a lunatic asylum temporarily freed from the restraint of the keepers. The method of bidding, with its suggestion of insanity in the actions, looks, and cries of the bidders, seems as necessary to the Stock Exchange as hammering and noise to a boiler shop. It is not, however, so hysterical or frenzied as it looks. Most of the cry is physical and has for its aim the recognition of the crier as a bidder. To those in the thick of the bidding it is often as matter-of-fact as the loud announcement of the train ushers in the railway stations, or the street cry of the newsboys or fruit hawkers.
Moreover (to shatter another delusion), the operators down below on the floor are not the Wall Street capitalists whose names are so familiar, and whose stock manipulations are read about in the newspapers. On the contrary, they are merely the executants of orders, called “floor brokers.” Among them are “board members” of large firms, who are looking to it that orders are properly filled; sub-commission men, who work for other brokers and take a slice of the commission; and “room traders,” who are sometimes used as stalking horses by large firms to cover up their transactions. They are all either bulls or bears, and are intent upon lifting up or beating down the market, as their interest may lie. They make a great noise and transact a large volume of business; but the people for whom they are doing the business do not appear on the floor, are not seen.
The Produce Exchange on Beaver Street and Broad-way does for all manner of produce substantially what the Stock Exchange does for stocks. That is to say, its members buy and sell, in a “pit” or depressed ring in the floor, wheat, oats, barley, corn, feed, flour, tallow, oil, lard, turpentine, resin all manner of general produce. There is also a great deal of miscellaneous and contingent business transacted within the building. Sales of cargoes, arrangements for shipping, lighterage, insurance, may be speedily made and concluded without leaving the exchange. Reports from all sources are collected and bulletined, quotations here and abroad are given, prospects of growing crops with daily and weekly receipts in New York, and stock on hand in London and elsewhere are announced. The volume of business continues to grow each year at an astounding rate. The exchange itself profits by this. It started in small beginnings, under the blue sky, on the sidewalk. It was not formally known as the Produce Exchange until 1868, and it did not move into its present massive building until 1884. Since then its membership has increased to several thousands; and its influence upon trade and transportation has become most potent.
The Maritime Exchange is closely connected with the Produce Exchange. Its business is to promote the maritime interests of the city; and those who do business on or with the sea agents, shippers, commission merchants, warehousemen, importers, brokers, marine underwriters, wreckers, ship-chandlers are eligible for member-ship. The exchange keeps records of the arrivals and departures of ships, their movements about the world, and their sudden exits by fire and storm. It also keeps tables of the imports and exports, regulates and reports upon navigation and Iighthouses, and promotes favor-able river and harbor legislation. The Customs House and the Post-Office, as well as the newspapers, get much of the news about the come and go of shipping from this source.
Akin to these exchanges are others dealing with the special needs and wants of special industries. The Consolidated Stock and Petroleum Exchange, among other things, affords every facility and every information for the sale and shipping of petroleum. Each year the sales there run up to something over a billion barrels. The Cotton Exchange on Beaver Street deals in everything connected with the cotton industry and the marketing of the product. The Builders’ Exchange has to do with the buying and selling of all kinds of building supplies such as cement, brick, stone, and the like; while the Metal Exchange on Pearl Street, the Wool Exchange on West Broadway, the Fruit Exchange on Park Place, the Brewers’ Exchange on East Fifteenth Street, the Silk Association, the Shoe and Leather Exchange, all serve a purpose in promoting business in those commodities. Then there is that old-time gathering of jewelers on Maiden Lane about the Jewelers’ Board of Trade, with the pre-Revolutionary Chamber of Commerce now on Liberty Street, and a Fire Insurance Exchange on Nassau Street.
Besides these centers, which act as magnets in drawing together the people directly interested in the various industries, there are spots or areas settled by people who have allied or identical interests. On Park Row and about Printing House Square are scores of buildings devoted to the publishing of newspapers; about Grand Street there are blocks given over to the wholesaling of dry-goods, down in the hollow of Canal Street are many freight and passenger railway offices, not far away are regions dedicated to shoes and leather, or groceries, or artificial flowers, or feathers and milliners’ supplies. These spots, that sometimes cover many blocks, are, of course, broken here and there by interlopers in other businesses; and there are literally thousands of firms in lower New York that belong to no group and are not affiliated with any of the exchanges. There is hardly an important manufacturing concern in the United States that has not some sort of headquarters in New York below the City Hall, and hardly a great shipping or commission firm in any of the large towns that has not an office in the lower city.
The great majority of these offices are merely brokerage places where transactions are financed or arranged for, but not where the commodities themselves are actually delivered. The buying or selling is “for the account,” and may result in a delivery at some future time in some other place; or it may be that no delivery at all is effected the settlement being made by paying the balance, be it profit or loss. The sales, however, where actual delivery at some time and place is made, as in stocks, bonds, steel, sugar, cotton, wheat, oil, dry-goods, leather, are very heavy. If the estimate of them were given in dollars, it would have to be in billions, for millions would be inadequate to express it.
What “actual delivery” means in produce and manufactures, aside from delivery for domestic uses, is suggested by the volume of New York’s foreign trade. It is five or six times as large as that of any other American city, and amounts to nearly one-half of the whole foreign trade of the United States. Each year over three thousand steamers and a thousand or more sailing vessels come up the bay from foreign ports. They bring the bulk of the things imported into the country, whether raw materials or finished products. Cotton, linen, wool, silk, furs worked up into wearing apparel, rubber, coffee, sugar, tobacco brought in crude and after-ward refined or manufactured in New York, are the leading items.
The city’s export trade is even greater than its import trade; but by comparison with other American cities, and considering the total exports of the country, it is not preponderant. Several large cities contend in the foreign shipments of wheat, corn, and barley, and New York handles only about one-quarter of the whole foreign consignment. Of animal products it ships fully one-half, but of cotton, again, only about one-tenth. Still, all this when considered in relation to the production and trade of the country is of huge volume. Once more, if it be estimated in dollars, it must be in millions; and, if the domestic trade of the city with the interior country and the coastwise commerce of the port are included, the figures must be written in billions.
And even yet the “business” of the city is not half stated. No one seems to think of New York as a manufacturing town. It is considered a shipping port, a city of commission merchants and brokers, a place where wealthy people live because there is no soft-coal smoke as in Pittsburg, Cincinnati, or Chicago. A sooty air, blackened buildings, clanging trains of cars, and long lines of mill-hands in blue-jeans are not in evidence; therefore it is assumed that only a genteel book-keeping and profit-taking business goes on here. But not so. Under the blue sky and clear light of New York a larger and more valuable series of manufactures is produced than in any other city on the continent. Manhattan taken by itself, ranks first, and Brooklyn standing alone, ranks fourth in the volume and value of these manufactures. Neither of them beats into salable shape steel rails and iron beams like Pittsburg, nor puts up for the market canned and salted meats like Chicago; but they manufacture hundreds of small articles used in households here and elsewhere about the world.
The item of clothing alone is something staggering in its figures. The large foreign population of Manhattan furnishes the necessary labor for this kind of work much of it being done by piece-work in the tenements. The manufacture of cigars and cigarettes, of lace and millinery goods, of feathers, toys, and miscellaneous gimcrackery, is also carried on by the tenement-house people. Then there is no end to the establishments that turn out furniture, musical instruments, electrical apparatus, tools, chemicals. The publishing and printing of books and papers is also a large industry; and the brewing of beers, the refining of sugar and molasses, the preparing of spices and coffees are probably the largest enterprises of all.
In Manhattan the majority of these manufactures are carried on in small buildings; or, if large, they are so far from the usually frequented avenues and streets that they are not remarked. The west side of the city, below Thirty-Fourth Street, is dotted with them; there are many scattered through the east side near the river; and there are others to the north along the Harlem. The Brooklyn water-front again is lined with factories, Long Island City has many of them, and Staten Island is almost girdled by them. Everywhere in the sparsely populated boroughs of Greater New York that have water-fronts, factories have sprung up. They are not welcomed by any except the persistent money-getters, and, in fact, they are fast making New York unfit for residence; but they must be counted in summing up the city’s resources. And so, for practical purposes, the great manufacturing interests on Long Island, along the Hudson, and over in North Jersey in towns such as Newark and Paterson, must be reckoned with as part of the city’s wealth and business. That reckoning, once more, must be made in billions, for the million-dollar mark is not sufficient to indicate it.
And we have not yet so much as thought of the vast retail trade of the up-town districts. This is not merely the supplying of the immediate wants of one section of New York by the people in another section of New York. It is something more than selling or trading with one’s self or one’s towns-people. The retail trade of New York reaches to all quarters of the United States. What it comes to in figures would be difficult to determine with accuracy; but we shall not be far from the truth if we continue with our designation of billions. The word seems to smack of pretension or extravagance, but it is neither the one thing nor the other; it is the simple fact. New York numbers its inhabitants by the millions, and it must have something higher than that whereby to count its capital and its earnings.
Whether it is necessary that all the vast business interests of the metropolis, and of the country at large, should have offices down town under the lee of Wall Street, is a question that needs little discussion. No doubt many of them would not suffer extinction if they had offices up town in the region of Forty-Second Street. The New York Times and The Herald have proved, at least, that there is no absolute necessity for newspaper enter-prises being located on Printing House Square; and as much might be proved, regarding the offices of shipping agents, insurance men, lawyers, and many others who now crowd the lower city districts.
There is, however, an argument for the other side. It is a part of a banker’s capital that he hail from Wall Street and have an office there, just as it is a hall-mark of quality, an insignia of respectability, for a jeweler to send his circulars out into the country from Maiden Lane. Moving up town, to many of these houses, would spell ruin, or at least they so regard it. It would be a losing of identity. Besides, there is business convenience in close quarters and short distances. A central hive saves time and energy. And so strong has the down-town instinct become that one might remove the very hive itself and still the bees would swarm on the platform where it formerly stood.
Of course the come and go of the throng each morning and evening, the push and surge and scramble along the fence rail, are caused by the endeavor to get in or out of the hive. Of course, again, the necessity for accommodations for the tenants of the hive has made the ground space of the lower city phenomenally valuable. So great be-came the value of that land a few years ago, that a bet-ter utilization of it in buildings grew to be a necessity. Out of that necessity came the much used and much abused sky-scraper, the tall building that everyone scolds about and yet finds too useful to get on without the one architectural success in which America is wholly original and beholden to none.
But the sky-scraper is of so much importance in New York to-day that it requires a chapter of its own.