The venerable New York Stock Exchange will be closed on Wednesday to mark the passing of former President George H. W. Bush. President Trump declared Wednesday a National Day of Mourning, and the NYSE along with other U.S. equity markets will mark the occasion by halting operations for one day. It is a fitting tribute to a dedicated public servant.
The last time the markets closed to honor an individual was in 2007, in recognition of the death of former President Gerald Ford. But the NYSE has a long history of unscheduled halts in operation, ranging from one-minute periods of silence to a shutdown of over four months at the outbreak of World War I. The reasons are varied and include tributes, backlogs, malfunctions, strikes and national emergencies. Perhaps most significant, however, are the respites declared in honor of service.
The NYSE was founded in 1792 and moved to its present location on Wall Street in 1865. That same year, the exchange closed for the first time to honor a fallen president, Abraham Lincoln, and remained shuttered for over a week. The death of Ulysses S. Grant was observed in an 1885 closure, and in 1898 the market closed to observe Grant's birthday (a tradition which never caught on). Lincoln's birthday warranted celebration from 1896 to 1953, while the holiday widely referred to as "President's Day" is still formally recognized as Washington's Birthday at the exchange.
Most Presidents of the modern era have been similarly memorialized. The NYSE has closed to mark the passing of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt. Former President Herbert Hoover, who died in 1964, was accorded somewhat lesser honors, as the market closed two hours early.
The practice regarding presidential honors has been somewhat idiosyncratic over time. Some former presidents including Woodrow Wilson, William Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland received half-day closures. Calvin Coolidge as well as Vice Presidents James Sherman and Garret Hobart were given full day honors, while both Warren Harding and William McKinley rated two full days of remembrance. Go figure.
Since the Civil War, five U.S. presidents received no formal salute from the NYSE: Andrew Johnson, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur and Benjamin Harrison. Every other chief executive since Cleveland in 1897 has been honored by a full or partial closure of the exchange to note his passing.
A rare full-day closure to recognize Americans of note who were not officeholders has occurred on three occasions: the return of General John J. Pershing in 1919, a parade celebrating Charles Lindbergh in 1927, and a Day of Mourning in 1968 to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.
The end of World War I brought closures to celebrate the armistice as well as two full-day military parades. Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur each received half-day pauses to coincide with victory parades in 1945 and 1951.
Even rarer is a market holiday to honor a foreign leader. The NYSE closed to observe the funeral of Queen Victoria of England in 1901, and again to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII. Partial closures also marked the death of Edward VII in 1910, his funeral the next day, and the death of King George V in 1936. Winston Churchill received two minutes of silence, and Pope John Paul II was accorded one minute.
Numerous other technical, logistical, climatological and martial events have halted operations at U.S.stock markets. But a pause in that most American axis of commerce to salute a special individual is a rare honor indeed.
RIP George H. W. Bush.
Christopher A. Hopkins, CFA, is a vice president and portfolio manager for Barnett & Co. in Chattanooga