1. The earliest known example of an organized market for equities dates from Rome, second century B.C.
2. Nathan Mayer Rothschild arranged his own personal transportation to the Battle of Waterloo, which he viewed from a distance. He bribed a ship to hurry him back to London, where he traded on his information of a British victory.
3. In 1913, 52.3 percent of all traded securities in London were non-British in origin. Great Britain exported seven percent of its gdp in the form of foreign investment, a figure which no developed nation has equalled since.
4. In 1929 less than two percent of all American households were buying stocks on margin. At the peak of the boom the average P/E ratio for NYSE-listed stocks was 16 to 1, which is not especially high by subsequent standards.
5. In 1958-9 dividend yields on stocks fell below bond rates in the U.S. and U.K., for the first time. They have stayed below ever since. At the time this was a source of shock and worry, the Modigliani-Miller theorem was not yet widely understood.
The above facts are from B. Mark Smith’s engaging The Equity Culture: The Story of the Global Stock Market.
Addendum: Michael Ward writes:
I recently came across a passage that identifies an even earlier example than second century BC Rome. Archeologists have uncovered evidence of what amounts to a stock market operating almost 2600 years ago. The following passage is set in a discussion of life among the subject peoples of Cyrus the Great, 559-530 BC, but also refers to archeological findings from the late Chaldean period and early Achaemenid period, roughly 650-500 BC. The passage reads:
“One more feature of contemporary economic life is strangely modern. In earlier times the high temple officials obtained as perquisites of their offices the right to certain of the sacrifices on certain days. These prebends were now bought and sold on the open market, not only for a given day, but for a small fraction of a day. The temple had become a huge corporation, shares of which could be transferred on what almost corresponded to our modern stock exchange.”
[A.T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1948), p. 85]
Second Addendum: The Rothschild fact is wrong, thanks to Jay McCarthy for the right answer.