Untapped Cities is pleased to present this exclusive clip of the upcoming PBS AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary, “The Bombing of Wall Street,” based on a long forgotten deadly terrorist attack on Wall Street in 1920. Damage from the attack can still be seen today in the former J.P. Morgan at 23 Wall Street, at the corner of Broad Street across from the New York Stock Exchange. The show, based on the book, The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in its First Age of Terror, by Beverly Gage, premiers on February 13th.

World-Telegram photograph in public domain

The date was September 16, 1920. A horse-drawn cart pulled up alongside the building, packed with dynamite. It was timed for lunchtime, with throngs of Wall Street workers heading out for lunch. Within seconds, 38 people were dead and hundreds more suffering from serious injuries. Windows were shattered in a ten block radius and it’s estimated that over $2 million dollars of damage was incurred. The attack remains an unsolved mystery to this day, though it is suspected that anarchists were behind the bombing. As PBS describes in its press release for the documentary, the bombing helped launch the career of a young J. Edgar Hoover and sparked a bitter national debate about how far the government should go to protect the nation from acts of political violence.”

Photo by New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection from Library of Congress

These issues still resonate almost a century later. The country was divided sharply between the massive wealth accumulated by Gilded Age industrialists and the working class. Not surprisingly, fear of revolt was much in the minds of the ruling class as they watched the Bolshevik revolution in Russia spur other uprisings globally. New Yorkers specifically had a right to be nervous. In 1908, an anarchist attempted to throw a bomb in Union Square during a socialist meeting but it prematurely detonated, killing a bystander and mortally wounding the bomber, a Russian member of the Anarchist Federation of America.

23 Wall Street today

Things ramped up in the years before 1920, with violent labor battles in major cities all over the country. 30 bombs targeting bankers and government officials were mailed to arrive on May Day in 1919, sparking the creation of “The Radical Division” at the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation, which would be led by J. Edgar Hoover. The tactics, which included raids, detention, and deportation, would be questioned. AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Executive Producer Mark Samels says, “During this period, America was grappling with the some of the same difficult quandaries in which we find ourselves now,” said  “How do we protect ourselves from violent extremists who wish to harm us without violating the civil liberties of those who may have different political beliefs? There was no easy answer in 1920 and no easy answer now.”

Damage still visible from the bombing

Damage still visible from the bombing

The Bombing of Wall Street film premieres on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Tuesday, February 13, 2018, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS.

Next, check out the Secrets of the Former Slave Market on Wall Street.