Black Thursday: History, Causes, and Impact


Black Thursday is a significant event in stock market history, referring to the fateful day of October 24, 1929, which marked the beginning of the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929. This article delves deep into the causes, consequences, and significance of Black Thursday, as well as its modern connotations. We explore the historical context, the aftermath, and the key takeaways from this pivotal moment in financial history.

What is Black Thursday?

Black Thursday is a term synonymous with a dark chapter in stock market history. On October 24, 1929, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) opened with a startling 11% drop in stock prices compared to the previous day’s closing. What ensued was a day of frantic selling and heavy trading that would go down in history as Black Thursday. This ominous day is often regarded as the catalyst for the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929, a catastrophic event that continued to wreak havoc until October 29, leading to the onset of the Great Depression.

The beginning of the end

Before the opening bell on that fateful Thursday, unease had already settled among investors and financial experts due to the rapidly rising stock prices throughout the 1920s. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) had surged from 63 in August 1921 to a staggering 381 in September 1929.

However, cracks in the façade were visible well before Black Thursday. In early September, economist Roger Babson had predicted a looming crash at the annual National Business Conference. September saw stock prices fluctuating wildly, with sudden drops and recoveries.

By October 23, the Dow had already fallen by 4.6%, and headlines were screaming about a “Huge Selling Wave” and near panic in the stock market.

The day of panic

When trading began on Black Thursday, the Dow plummeted by an alarming 11% within the first few hours. What added to the sense of impending disaster was the record-breaking trading volume, with 12.9 million shares changing hands by the end of the day, three times the usual amount.

To mitigate the panic, the three leading banks at the time, Morgan Bank, Chase National Bank, and National City Bank of New York, pooled $750 million to purchase stocks and restore investor confidence. By day’s end, the Dow had managed to recover slightly, closing 2% down at 299.47.

This sudden downturn shattered the widely held belief that stock prices had reached a “permanently high plateau,” as one economist had famously declared.

Aftermath of Black Thursday

While the efforts to stabilize the market temporarily succeeded, Black Monday, on October 28, saw another significant decline of almost 13%. This, in turn, triggered a full-blown panic on Black Tuesday, October 29. On that day, the Dow plummeted to 230.07, marking a devastating 12% loss.

Following Black Thursday, the Dow continued its downward spiral for three more years, hitting its lowest point on July 8, 1932, at 41.22. This represented nearly a 90% loss of its value since the peak on September 3, 1929. Remarkably, it would take 25 years, until November 23, 1954, for the Dow to regain those previous heights.

Many investors, both institutional and individual, had heavily leveraged their investments, and the crash of Black Thursday wiped them out financially. This, in turn, triggered widespread bank failures and ultimately plunged the United States into the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The factors behind Black Thursday

While Black Thursday is often associated with the immediate panic and crash, it was, in fact, the result of several underlying factors. These included overproduction in various industries, an agricultural recession, rampant speculation, widespread use of margin to buy stocks, questionable accounting practices by investment trusts, emerging regulation of public utility companies, and a tightening of the money supply by the Federal Reserve (Fed).

The aftermath of the Stock Market Crash of 1929 led to a significant overhaul of the U.S. securities industry. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was established, and new regulations, such as the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, were introduced to safeguard investors.

Modern connotations: Black Thursday shopping

In recent years, Black Thursday has taken on a more positive connotation, albeit unrelated to finance. It’s a term used affectionately to refer to Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

Many retailers now open their doors on Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday shopping season and compete with online stores.

In this context, “black” has nothing to do with financial turmoil but rather symbolizes profitability, with “black ink” traditionally used by accountants to indicate profits, while “red ink” denoted losses. However, this practice has led to criticism, as employees are often required to leave Thanksgiving dinners early to report to work.

Decrease in stock value on Black Thursday

On Black Thursday, stocks, as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), declined by 2%. While this may seem modest compared to the subsequent days, it marked the beginning of a financial catastrophe.

Black Thursday vs. Black Tuesday

Black Thursday and Black Tuesday, both integral parts of the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929, occupy opposite ends of this catastrophic event. Black Thursday, on October 24, marked the beginning of the crash, with a 2% decline in the DJIA.

In contrast, Black Tuesday occurred five days later, on October 29, and was the final and worst day of the crash. On this day, the DJIA dropped more than 30 points, losing a staggering 12% of its value.

Why did stock prices fall so sharply on Black Tuesday? The previous declines on Black Thursday and Black Monday had severely shaken confidence in the market. Many investors faced margin calls, leading to further selling, and the stock tickers lagged behind, causing confusion and exacerbating the panic.

Historical context

Understanding Black Thursday requires delving into the historical context of the late 1920s. This period was characterized by the Roaring Twenties, a time of unprecedented economic growth, technological advancement, and cultural change in the United States. The stock market was on a relentless upward trajectory, and the nation was experiencing an economic boom.

As a comprehensive example of the economic exuberance, consider that during this time, stocks of companies involved in the burgeoning automobile industry were soaring. Investors were drawn to names like Ford and General Motors, whose stock prices skyrocketed as the demand for automobiles surged. This exuberance was fueled by the belief that the good times would never end.

Overconfidence and speculation

The overconfidence and speculation rampant in the stock market during the 1920s are vivid examples of how optimism can sometimes lead to reckless behavior. Investors were borrowing heavily to buy stocks on margin, a practice that magnified both gains and losses. They believed that the market could only go up, as exemplified by the quote from an investor in 1929: “Stock prices have reached ‘what looks like a permanently high plateau.’

Comparisons to modern market volatility

Comparing Black Thursday to more recent market events, such as the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s or the 2008 financial crisis, provides valuable insights into the dynamics of market crashes and investor sentiment. These examples illustrate how market euphoria can lead to bubbles and eventual bursts, impacting not only the economy but also individual investors.

The long-lasting impact

While the article has already touched upon the aftermath of Black Thursday, it’s essential to emphasize the long-lasting repercussions that extended well beyond the 1930s. One such example is the Banking Act of 1933, commonly known as the Glass-Steagall Act, which sought to prevent a repeat of the financial excesses that contributed to the Great Depression. It mandated the separation of commercial and investment banking, aiming to safeguard the financial system.

The legacy of regulation

Today, the legacy of this regulation is evident in the separation of traditional banking services and investment banking activities. This regulation is a prime example of how the lessons learned from past financial crises can shape the regulatory landscape for years to come.

Comparing economic crises

Comparing the consequences of Black Thursday to those of the 2008 financial crisis, which led to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, highlights the enduring impact of significant financial events on regulatory frameworks. The Dodd-Frank Act aimed to address the root causes of the 2008 crisis and improve transparency and accountability in the financial industry.

Modern-day Black Thursday

The term “Black Thursday” has evolved to take on new meanings in contemporary contexts. One prime example is in the world of e-commerce. With the rise of online shopping, particularly on major retail platforms, “Black Thursday” has come to symbolize the start of holiday shopping sales, often beginning on Thanksgiving Day itself.

The evolution of holiday shopping

Consider the shift in consumer behavior exemplified by the fact that online retailers like Amazon now offer early Black Thursday deals, allowing shoppers to access discounts and promotions before the traditional Black Friday rush. This transition underscores the evolving nature of consumer habits and the importance of staying competitive in the digital age.

Challenges for retail employees

The modern concept of Black Thursday presents a challenge for retail employees, who may be required to work during Thanksgiving festivities. This has sparked debates about work-life balance and labor rights, with some employees advocating for policies that allow them to spend the holiday with their families.


Black Thursday stands as a stark reminder of the fragility of financial markets and the repercussions of unchecked speculation and over-leveraging. While it marked the beginning of a painful period in American history, it also prompted essential reforms that aimed to prevent such catastrophic events from recurring.

Frequently Asked Questions

What triggered the panic on Black Thursday in 1929?

The panic on Black Thursday in 1929 was triggered by a sudden 11% drop in stock prices on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) when it opened. This drop led to frantic selling and heavy trading throughout the day, marking the beginning of the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929.

How did Black Thursday impact the economy in the years that followed?

Black Thursday had a profound and lasting impact on the economy. It marked the start of the Great Depression, with the stock market and the broader economy experiencing a prolonged period of decline. Many investors and banks were financially devastated, leading to widespread bank failures.

What were the factors that contributed to Black Thursday?

Several factors contributed to Black Thursday, including overproduction in various industries, an agricultural recession, rampant speculation in the stock market, the widespread use of margin to buy stocks, questionable accounting practices by investment trusts, emerging regulation of public utility companies, and a tightening of the money supply by the Federal Reserve (Fed).

How did Black Thursday lead to regulatory changes in the financial industry?

Black Thursday prompted significant regulatory changes in the financial industry. It led to the establishment of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the introduction of new regulations like the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. These measures aimed to safeguard investors and prevent a recurrence of the 1929 crash.

What is the modern significance of Black Thursday?

In modern times, Black Thursday has taken on a different meaning. It is associated with the start of holiday shopping sales, often beginning on Thanksgiving Day. Many retailers open their doors on this day to compete with online stores, offering discounts and promotions to attract shoppers.

What lessons can we learn from Black Thursday and its aftermath?

Black Thursday serves as a reminder of the fragility of financial markets and the dangers of unchecked speculation and over-leveraging. It highlights the importance of prudent financial practices, regulatory oversight, and the need for a robust financial safety net to protect both investors and the broader economy.

Key takeaways

  • Black Thursday, on October 24, 1929, marked the start of the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929, leading to the Great Depression.
  • Multiple factors, including rampant speculation and margin trading, contributed to the crash.
  • The aftermath of Black Thursday led to significant regulatory changes, including the establishment of the SEC.
  • Modern Black Thursday is associated with Thanksgiving and early holiday shopping.
View article sources
  1. Black Thursday bushfires – National Museum of Australia 
  2. Black Thursday | Definition, Stock Market Crash of 1929, … – Britannica
  3. Black Thursday, February 6th 1851 – William Strutt, 1825- … – Google arts and culture