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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in Its First Age of Terror » User review

A thorough historical recap of what is essentially a forgotten major terrorist act

  • Feb 5, 2009
In the aftermath of the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center by terrorist acts, it is easy to forget that terrorism has a long and convoluted history in the United States. For decades in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, foreign-born individuals came to the United States and planted bombs to further their social, economic and political agendas. A great deal of this activity was intertwined with the labor movement as it fought a vicious battle with the wealthy class. Thousands of workers were killed in preventable industrial accidents each year and workers were determined to force the ownership class to make changes in salary, hours and the workplace environment.
The anarchists and other advocates of violence were largely Italian or Eastern European in heritage and legal measures to keep people from those areas from immigrating to the United States were enacted in the early 1920's. Much of what was done then was repeated after September 11, 2001 only then the legal measures were aimed at people from the Middle East.
It is surprising that the events of September 16, 1920 are not more widely known. For on that day, a horse-drawn cart packed with explosives exploded on Wall Street in New York City. The blast killed 39 people and wounded hundreds more, some of them very seriously. It was one of the major events in a campaign by radicals and anarchists to upset the economic structure and wrest additional rights from the owners. However, no group ever took credit and the crime was never solved. Even today, as Gage points out, there is no group or persons that can definitively be tagged as "likely suspects."
Gage does an excellent job in providing the historical context for the blast, spending a great deal of time explaining the industrial conditions of the period. In most places they were very harsh, working conditions were often atrocious and the owners found it easier to simply hire another worker to replace one injured or killed. Workers that could no longer earn a living were given little or nothing in the way of workman's compensation. In fact, the owners hired their own mercenaries to battle with workers when they proved too unruly. There were sometimes events that could only be described as small wars when the two sides battled for control. At one point, striking workers even commandeered a plane and dropped bombs on strikebreaking workers.
Students of history will also recognize this event and the aftermath as the beginning of the rise of J. Edgar Hoover to control of the F.B.I., a position that he retained until his death. This is a point that is not lost on Gage. The book is a fascinating account of what should be considered a major event in American history, for in many ways it was the last of the major industrial terrorist acts. As the 1920's began in full, the country began moving forward into the era of consumerism and in the words of President Calvin Coolidge, "The business of America is business."

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More The Day Wall Street Exploded: ... reviews
review by . March 09, 2009
So, up front you should know that I haven't finished this book and likely won't. I've gotten two-thirds of the way into it and I give up. It's completely failing to grip me, and I have no interest in finishing it.    I'd gone into this book expecting a nice non-fiction crime story, talking about the particulars of a very nasty terrorist attack. I'd expected to read all about the case, how it happened, who was behind it, the investigation, etc.    Sadly, what …
review by . February 16, 2009
As it becomes more apparent that America's "war on terror" really may be the generational conflict some commentators were predicting shortly after September 11, perhaps historians' minds are turning more to similar periods of uncertainty and generalized threat in American life? It would seem that way, given that a few months ago saw the release of American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century, Howard Blum's well-done re-introduction to us of the bombing …
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Charles Ashbacher ()
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Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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Just after noon on September 16, 1920, as hundreds of workers poured onto Wall Street for their lunchtime break, a horse-drawn cart packed with dynamite exploded in a spray of metal and fire, turning the busiest corner of the financial center into a war zone. Thirty-nine people died and hundreds more lay wounded, making the Wall Street explosion the worst terrorist attack to that point in U.S. history. InThe Day Wall Street Exploded, Beverly Gage tells the story of that once infamous but now largely forgotten event.

Take a Look at Wall Street Political CartoonsPolitical cartoons in 1920 reflected public perceptions of the attack on Wall Street and its aftermath. Cartoonists directed their satire towards the villains of the age: communists, anarchists, and--according to one cartoonist--greedy employers. These images are featured in the decorative endpapers ofThe Day Wall Street Exploded. (Click on any image to enlarge).

December 17, 1921

New York Daily News
September 17, 1920

Chicago Tribune
Date Unknown
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ISBN-10: 019514824X
ISBN-13: 978-0195148244
Author: Beverly Gage
Genre: History
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
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