National Geographic : 1964 Jul
The names Holt, Rinehart, and Winston once stood for three firms, but there had been many mergers: "Bigness pays off," said the colonel. "But remember, big business needs colossal financing, and the money market is in New York too." He referred to the financial district on the lower tip of Manhattan, where 300 years ago stood 300 little houses with stepped gables, the Dutch settlement of Nieuw Amsterdam. The end of the town was a wooden wall, roughly where Wall Street is today. Now this is the world's financial center, the densest concentration of skyscrapers. Here the big corporations borrow from the big in vestment banks, or issue shares or bonds through underwriters. Here bustle the Cotton Exchange, the Coffee and Sugar Exchange, the Commodity Exchange for dealing in cop per and silver, rubber and hides. Why do they press together here-the an- Oh's and ah's burst from spectators at Macy's annual Thanksgiving Day parade. Cross-eyed Bullwinkle, a television-star moose, floats down Central Park West. Donald Duck bobs behind. Macy's employ ees guide half a dozen such gigantic Dacron figures along the two-mile parade route. alysts, accountants, lawyers, and brokers, the myriad specialists of the financial community - l i ke sardines in upended cans? For efficiency. A specialist explained: "We need advice from many people, in a hurry. What's the significance of a new government regulation? A proposed merger? A foreign revolution? Such things are best discussed across the table." Stockbrokers Must Be Fast Walkers Discussions here affect the wheat fields of Kansas, the automobile factories of Michigan, the studios of Hollywood, the tin mines of Bolivia. And the fortunes of 17,000,000 Amer ican investors fluctuate day by day on the New York Stock Exchange (pages 82-3). Wearing a badge marked "Guest," I stepped onto the Exchange floor, made of springy maple. "To save our feet," said an Exchange official. "We never run; there's a rule against that. But we walk very fast." I closed my eyes and listened. The voices and echoes in the great hall sounded as if they came from an indoor swimming pool. We walked to the post trading in the stock of American Telephone & Telegraph Com pany. Here stood George M. L. La Branche, Jr., of La Branche & Co., wearing a Phi Beta Kappa key and a Racquet Club tie. He was a member registered by the Exchange as the A. T. & T. specialist; other members with orders to buy or sell this stock met at his post. What if for a moment there should be no buyer? "I'll buy," said Mr. La Branche. And if there is a buyer but no seller? "Then I sell," he said. "That's my job, what we call 'making a market.' " Mr. La Branche's decisions-to buy from the low offerer or to sell to the high bidder quickly show up on stock tickers across the country: as a slightly higher price for A. T. & T., or a slightly lower price. I walked a block from the Exchange to the graveyard of old Trinity Church. Within three blocks rose five of the country's seven biggest banks. The Irving Trust Company was put ting up a new building across the street from Trinity, and the pneumatic hammers seemed to be shaking the graves. The Stock Exchange needed a big new building too-and this saddened Mrs. Maggie Walsh Petersen, who lives right around the corner. Her little house on Moore Street would have to go, and a lot of others as well. Only Fraunces Tavern, where George Wash ington said farewell to his officers, and four other houses would be saved.