1917: The first Liberty Loan Act authorizes the U.S. Treasury to borrow up to $5 billion at 3.5%. The rate is so low -- municipal bonds are already selling at yields of up to 4.5% on worries over the war -- that experts predict total failure. But Liberty Loans are a stroke of populist genius: selling in face amounts as low as $50, fully marketable, and payable in installments after a down payment as low as $4, they are a huge success. Some 4 million Americans shell out more than $3 billion for them -- the beginning of the 20th-century public’s interest in investing.
1956: Yet another meaningless but popular ritual begins on Wall Street as, for the first time, the New York Stock Exchange permits its opening bell to be rung by an outside guest -- Leonard Ross, who won $100,000 on a TV quiz show largely on the strength of his knowledge of stock-market trivia.
1968: IPO mania is in full fury on Wall Street as National Student Marketing Corporation goes public. The company, which signs up undergrads to flog vinyl LPs, employment guides, posters, and other schlock on college campuses nationwide, is a huge hit. Offered at $6 a share, the stock surges 133% to close the first day at $14, or roughly 100 times earnings. Within two years, the company founder, Cort Randell, is on his way to jail for stock fraud, and NSMC stock trades below $1 a share.
1990: Michael Milken, former king of the junk-bond underwriting business, pleads guilty to five technical counts of violating securities laws. He is later sentenced to ten years in federal prison but is released early for good behavior.