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History of the Ticker Tape

The grainy, black and white footage may be hard to make out, but during the post-World War II parades that happened around the country, there was always one constant: ticker tape. Ticker tape’s home, however, wasn’t on the parade route, but inside the stock exchange, where the tape has had a colourful history of helping to shape the current financial structure in the US. But where did the tape, and the machines that used it come from and was the original design made for the trading floor?

First off, let’s take a look at the name. A tick was a term used to describe the slight movement of stocks. These machines, (think a computer printer but in 1867) were used to track stock movements by recording every transaction and then relaying the results.

Taking a look at what was recorded on the ticker tape, well, let’s just say that you would need to know quite a bit about investing before anything you saw on the tape would make sense. For one transaction, the tape would record several characters. The first set was the stock’s ticker symbol. A ticker symbol is simply an abbreviated name for a company, usually 3 or 4 letters that let investors know which stock is being traded. The second set of symbols was the number of shares traded. Usually the amounts are large, so if the number of shares were in the thousands, the reading could be something like 3k for 3,000. The next set of symbols are numbers that designate what the trade price of that particular stock was. This is also known as the last bid price. The next symbol is the easiest one to read, it will either be an up arrow to show that the price of the stock is headed up compared to yesterday’s closing price or it will be a down arrow showing that the stock price in headed lower. The final set of numbers shows the amount the price of the stock changed, for the better or the worse.

The modern day tickers are electronic and the days of ticker tape being used are over. The only place you’re likely to see a ticker tape machine these days is in a museum or on an episode of The Simpsons (Mr. Burns has one).

While ticker tape is no longer in use, it was synonymous with Wall Street and investing in America for generations. And yes, even today, if there is a big parade somewhere, you can bet rolls of ticker tape will be used to make the event as festive as possible.

  © Mirza Rais 2008

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