The financial world is bigger than ever these days thanks to cryptocurrency, which has opened the door for people who historically had little to no interest in finance thanks to the seeming complexity of the stock market. And, let’s be honest, the stock market has long felt inaccessible to most people. Very few people own stocks and you’ll see reports of between 55% and 60% of people in the last few years owning stocks, but only about 14% are directly invested in stocks while 52% have retirement accounts like a 401(k). For many, the stock market is this faraway, unknowable thing. But it’s subject to a lot of the same simple things the rest of the world endures, and it’s even but shut down for some bizarre reasons over the years.
10. Covid Shut Down the NYSE
In early 2020, just as we were all adjusting to the covid-19 pandemic, the New York stock exchange found itself shutting down as well. It was March when it shut down so the system could switch over to electronic trading and thus remove the need for everyone to share a floor and potentially expose themselves to the virus. The move came after two positive tests for Covid.
The exchange remained closed for just over two months, then reopened in May 2020 with precautions in place to allow people to return, such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing, just like everyone else was supposed to be doing. Still, most people stayed away to work remotely.
9. The Backup System for the Tokyo Stock Exchange Was Set to “Off”
If you’ve ever called tech support for something electronic not working the first questions they ask you always sound condescending beyond belief. Is it plugged in? Do you have it turned on? Most of us feel insulted by these questions, but the truth is they ask them because that’s actually the problem very often. It also seemed to be the reason Tokyo stock exchange was shut down in 2020.
Trading was halted for an entire day in what was labeled in many media sources as a software glitch and a hardware failure. Backup systems failed as well, so there was nothing for traders to do for the entire day.
So what happened to the backup system? Someone had it set to “off.” It had been set to off for five entire years since they had their system upgraded, but it was never needed before, so no one noticed. Ironically, prior to their upgrade, the system was set to switch to back over even if it was set to off. But the upgrade removed that feature.
8. A Solar Flare Closed to the Toronto Stock Exchange
Most of the reasons the stock exchange is going to be shut down are earthly, as we’ll see. But not all the reasons. Turns out the sun has it in for us sometimes and that’s what happened to the Toronto Stock Exchange in 1989 when a solar flare shut it down on August 16th.
Months earlier, a massive solar flare had caused a blackout across the Canadian province of Quebec and parts of Ontario. The one in August was even stronger, but the earlier one had at least prepared officials with some idea of what to expect and how to handle it.
The electromagnetic interference caused three different disc drives, meant to keep the system running as redundancies, to fail one after another like falling dominos. The result was the exchange being offline for three hours until repairs could be made.
7. Rage Against the Machine stormed the NYSE
Rage Against the Machine has always been steeped in politics, as if the name of the band itself wasnt enough of a clue. For years their music has been pretty explicitly political, even if a number of their fans were never clear on that. In one very clear example of their beliefs, the band actually filmed a video on Wall Street that involved getting the New York Stock Exchange shut down.
Directed by filmmaker Michael Moore, himself no stranger to controversial political opinions, the video for “Sleep Now in the Fire” was supposed to take place on the steps out front of the exchange. According to lead singer Tom Morello, they had a permit for the steps but not the sidewalk. And as they were filming, Moore directed them to go onto the sidewalk. So they did, and a police officer immediately told them to move back.
Moore had told the band to not stop performing no matter what, so they kept playing. Except, being a music video, they weren’t really playing. They were just miming the movements along to a playback of the song. So the officer tried to unplug Morello’s guitar and nothing happened. Likewise, when he shut down the bass and the drums. Frustrated and angry, the officer then arrested Michael Moore, at which point Moore yelled at the band to take the exchange.
Morello and crew headed inside and told security they were there to take the exchange. Security hit an alarm, summoned riot cops, and shut the whole thing down in response.
6. The Movie Trading Places Halted $6 Billion in Trades
The 1983 film Trading Places is arguably the funniest film that ever set its climax on the floor of the Stock Exchange. In the movie, Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy team up to financially turn the tables on a couple of crooked old millionaires who ruined both of their lives.
The trading sequences in the movie were filmed at the World Trade Center’s commodity exchange called Comex. That gave it a real air of authenticity, but it also posed a problem. This was the actual exchange and a film crew in the way made work impossible. The distraction of having the actors and production on location during normal business ended up putting a halt to $6 billion in trades. Naturally, the production had to pack up and come back on a weekend when the market was closed to finish.
5. Trading Dropped over 40% during the OJ Simpson Trial Verdict
It’s hard to imagine today just how big a deal the O.J. Simpson trial was if you weren’t there to experience it. You can read about it, but understanding how it seemed to dominate the media and pop culture for months is just something you had to experience firsthand. In retrospect it doesn’t even make sense as O. J. Simpson was barely a household name at the time, a man whose professional football career had ended over 15 years earlier and who had only acted in a handful of B movies as well as the Naked Gun franchise.
Nonetheless, the trial became the proverbial media circus, and it’s estimated as many as 150 million people watched the verdict being read on TV. Trading on the stock exchange dropped 41% at the time. A baffling set of predictions from before the trial estimated that record numbers of people would be calling in sick to watch, thus destroying overall productivity, not to mention slumps in housing and rises in unemployment, all linked to the trial. The stock market slump was predicted as well, with the expectation that traders would abandon their work to watch what happened.
4. Groucho Marx Stopped Trading for 15 Minutes in 1950
Once upon a time, Groucho Marx was one of the biggest names in Hollywood. He was so famous that, in 1950, they invited him to the New York Stock Exchange just to tour the place and look around. Being a consummate entertainer, when Marx was given access to the public address system, he took control and began to sing Lydia the Tattooed Lady for the assembled traders on the floor. Word is, when they tried to take the microphone from him, he lamented how he’d lost all of his money on the stock market in the crash of 1929, so they owned him at least a song. And with that, he tied up the market for 15 full minutes.
The distraction was enough to get the attention of the traders who stopped work to watch. Marx was a professional entertainer, after all, and he’d made the song famous about 11 years earlier.
3. Squirrels Shut Down the Markets Twice
Are squirrels conspiring to financially destroy America? Let’s leave that question to zoologists. But there is mounting evidence that the little rodents have it in for the Stock Market since they’ve shut it down not once but twice already. You’d be hard pressed to find many things between natural disasters and war that have ever shut down the stock exchange twice. But squirrels did it.
In 1987, a squirrel shut down markets for 82 minutes after a squirrel shorted electrical systems for the National Association of Securities Dealers. It was estimated that about 20 million shares were unable to be traded as a result.
In 1994, another squirrel chewed through some wires that the stock market’s backup systems weren’t prepared to replace, closing things down for 34 minutes.
2. A Loud Noise Shut Down European Exchanges
What do small dogs, your grandma, and the stock market have in common? You want to try to protect them from loud noises that can disturb them. In 2018, it was discovered that the computers controlling European markets are sensitive to loud whistles and they can and will shut down when they have to endure those whistles.
The problem was caused by the fire alarm at a data center in Sweden. The noise created by the fire suppression system was so loud it damaged the servers and shut down the stock exchanges for seven whole countries, including Denmark, Finland, and parts of Iceland’s servers. They had to fly in new servers, so the markets were down for several hours until things could be repaired.
In case you’re curious about the science, it has to do with vibrations. The noise damaged the alignment of the hard drivers in the servers, basically shaking them so much that they became useless in terms of their read-write abilities. Noises that reach 110 decibels can affect a hard drive and the fire system was putting out 130 decibels.
1. A Woman in a Tight Sweater
This entry is either the most unbelievable or the most absolutely, totally believable, depending on how you look at the world. In 1968, not just the New York Stock Exchange but Wall Street itself was crippled by Francine Gottfried, otherwise known as “Sweater Girl.”
Gottfried worked on Wall Street at the time, and she used to walk to the office. And there’s no reasonable way to say this, so we’ll just go with what happened – groups of men used to hang out to watch her because she wore tight sweaters. Gottfried’s figure was such that she cast what you might call an alluring silhouette, which is to say the woman had large breasts and, in 1968, the idea of massive crowds of men leaving a large-breasted woman alone was not one that occurred too many.
According to the stories, each passing day saw more and more men joining the crowds to watch her travel to work culminating in all out pandemonium on the afternoon of September 19th. A crowd of 5,000 gathered, while some sources say 6,000, abandoning their offices and leaving the Stock Exchange unmanned.
Police had to close the street and escort her to work at a data processing center as the crowd damaged cars climbing on them to get a better look. Trading came to a halt as bankers and traders ran to their windows to see what was happening.
By October 5th, other women were showing up to cause a scene as well, complete with published measurements and police for crowd control. As for Gottfried, it’s said she was offered $100,000 to make some night club appearances. No word on if she accepted.