- I am interested in U.S. stock exchange ticker tape. In particular, I want to identify
the last date upon which U.S. stock exchange ticker machines were used by U.S. brokers or
other U.S. financial firms. I am interested only in the narrow paper stock exchange ticker tape,
not the broad (wide) tape used for news, etc. (see the images below showing the kind of
ticker tape that I am interested in; The 1966 tape below is exactly 1 inch wide, but I think that
some later tape is only 0.75 inches wide). Challenge: Do you know, or can you find out for me, the last day upon which stock exchange ticker
tape machines were used in the U.S.? As of May 2018, I have figured out that the tickers were still running
on March 31, 1994 (details and evidence below). When did they fall silent? Does anyone have a piece of ticker tape from later than March 31, 1994?
- My interest started in the late 1990s, when I tried to find some old ticker tape, with no success whatsoever.
After years of hunting, I mentioned my lack of success to a former broker, for whom I had done a favor (the late J. Robert Ramsay of Columbus GA).
He very kindly sent me a piece of old ticker tape in early 2000. It was not until 2017, however, that I took the time
to date the tape. A simple comparison of some of the ticker symbols and prices on my tape with data from the University of Chicago Center
for Research in Security Prices (CRSP) database very quickly pinpointed the date of my tape as August 25, 1966.
- In order to pinpoint the date of my tape, I noted 10 ticker symbols and price stamps from the physical paper tape.
I went to the CRSP database and looked up the ticker symbols. Ticker symbols are, however, not unique. They get re-used
through time. So, I chose to use only symbols that had not been re-used, or which had not been re-used until
after I thought was the latest possible date of my tape. The tickers allowed me to pinpoint PERMNOs (CRSP identifiers that
are unique). I downloaded every high and low price on each of my 10 stocks identified by PERMNO for every
trading day from January 2, 1930 to December 31, 1979. That's 13,519 trading days, and 20
times that number of prices (of course, many prices were missing because stocks had not come into existence in the
early part of the sample, or had ceased to exist by the later part of the sample).
I then used software (just Excel in this simple case) to ask upon how many days the price
imprints for all my 10 stocks were at or below the high of the day and at or above the low of the day, for the
Over the 13,519 trading days, there was only one day that satisfied that query: August 25, 1966.
- In fact, a student asked me how many stocks I needed to use to do this, and I found that if I took
just the first two stocks, I got the same answer. Stock prices are so volatile that there was only one
day that the wildly moving price numbers on my first two stocks fell within the ranges in the databases.
It just so happened that the first two stocks I looked at
were wild enough that they determined uniquely the day, but that was not true for any pair of stocks.
I found that I could pinpoint the day using any four of my ten stocks. So, 10 stocks were sufficient, but, in general,
only four were necessary.
- After dating my tape, I looked at eBay and over time I found several other prices of ticker tape that
I could date. For the last two examples, I had to include the full CRSP database history.
The pictures here are from the vendors or from eBay, and elsewhere. Click for larger image (where possible).
- August 25, 1966
- This is my original piece of ticker tape, given to me by Mr. Ramsay. I put a ruler on it, and it is exactly 1 inch wide. I have about
10 feet of tape. I put an image of part of this tape over the top right corner of the cover of a book I published in 2000.
- August 26, 1966
- I was amazed to find that this piece of tape being sold on eBay was dated only one day after my piece of tape.
From the more than 15,000 possible dates (and many more if you go earlier), it seemed very unlikely
that this tape would differ from mine by only one day. After exchanging emails with the vendor, we decided that he likely
got his tape from the same gentleman that I got my tape from, some 15 or so years earlier. I think I recall that Mr. Ramsay
told me that he had two reels of ticker tape in his basement. He likely saved reels from two successive days. Perhaps he pulled them from the
accumulated trash on the same day. Perhaps he did that when the broker he was working for was stopping using physical tape and was switching
to electronic reporting. I figure one reel eventually went to this vendor, while part of the other came to me.
- I once did a back-of-the-envelope calculation that at least 100 million miles of ticker tape was produced.
The fact that my tape and this tape, although examined 15-20 years after they were each obtained, both came from the same source,
reinforces the fact that although 100 million miles of the stuff was produced, stock ticker tape is actually very rare nowadays!
It was all thrown, or thrown out.
- For the largest image, (the one with the green background), I did not immediately know that it was the same date as the other two.
So, I set about dating it. Note, however, that the handle is missing from some of the stock prices. That is,
the leading digit(s) has(have) been dropped from some stock prices. For example, IBM says "7 7/8" but was actually trading at
317 7/8. The vendor told me that "During busy times, the ticker tape would occasionally
drop the volume figures and everything but the last dollar digit. The machines could only print so many characters per
minute, so this was a way to keep the ticker running in real time. Tape delays made people nervous." Elsewhere I read that
if the tape delay was more than one minute, the handles would be dropped, and volume information might be dropped also,
unless the volume was 5,000 shares or more. He sent me a link
to the last image in this group (tape-delay machine).
The missing handle(s) made the matching process a bit more complicated, because I had to write code that allowed for multiple
possible unknown handles. So, I had to write code that would look for the full price on the day in the database or the full price with the
first digit shaved off, or the full price with two digits shaved off. My code still returned the same unique date.
- May 18, 1973
- This tape was originally advertised on eBay as being from 1972. The vendor was surprised when I pinpointed it to May 18, 1973.
I was surprised by the late date on this tape. I did not realize that the tickers were still running in 1973.
- April 9, 1975
- If the last date surprised me, then this date amazed me: April 9, 1975. One vendor (not the one for this tape) told me
that "The first fully electronic machines, that could outpace the paper tape, came out in 1960, and started getting a
big share of the market by 1964. The paper tape machines probably ended production around 1966/1967, but were not retired.
They ran side-by-side with the new machines in larger firms. Certainly they were too outdated by 1982 to keep up, but [I am] not
sure when the last one ran. I seem to recall a roll dated 1976, but [that is] not definite." He also gave me the following
quote from 1971 "paper ticker tape is so rare these days that New York City has had to ask brokers with such tickers to
hoard the tape so that there will be enough on hand to make a decent showing when a Broadway parade is held."
- May 23, 1991
- Well, I thought this was impossible. This piece and the next come from the 1990s. I found the following image at Getty's Web site.
It is their property, but they have it is mislabeled at their site as being from the 1970s.
- March 31, 1994
- I found the following piece for sale on Ebay. The vendor said it came from an estate sale in Chicago.
At first, I thought it was some sort of fabrication/fake. I contacted someone in the U.S. who suggested that
it is not a fabrication of any sort, but rather that in discount broker offices in the 1990s, the brokers would
sometimes use an old ticker machine that had previously been retired. Perhaps the machine was not well maintained,
which explains the "sloppy printing, cheap ink, and a residual line produced from a dirty (inky) pressure roller."
The paper also appears to be quite roughly cut.
Note that the ink used here is not Western Union's old
#56 Purple, Ticker Ink
of the older tape above.
My contact suggested that this ticker machine would have been in the broker's front office because some, perhaps older,
customers expected to see a ticker machine in a
brokerage office. Also, it added a little noise to the office which gave an air of busy-ness. Also, some of the older
brokers had lived with ticker machines all their lives, and did not want to give them up. Note that the following day,
Friday April 1, 1994, was an exchange holiday for Good Friday. I suggested to the vendor that someone knew they were going to have a
long weekend, they felt relaxed about it, and they grabbed the tape to take home for their kids to play with, or
just for fun, or something like that.
This section is based on multiple sources, including Barron's Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms (2003),
and Barron's Finance and Investment Handbook (2003).
- First, I hope it is obvious that the ticker symbols (e.g., "GE" for General Electric,
and "PN" for Pan American) are called "ticker symbols" because they were printed on the ticker
machine, and the ticker machine was called a "ticker" machine because of the loud ticking noise it made
as the symbols and prices were printed. You can hear a stock ticker in the first few seconds
of this old movie clip.
The movie is about Thomas Edison, who invented the best-known ticker machine, but the ticker
machine was invented by Edward Calahan in 1867, patented in 1868, before Edison's 1871 invention,
patented in 1873. Here is another short movie clip with
ticker sounds .
The glass dome over the older machines suppressed the noise to some extent---in addition to helping
to keep the machine's innards clean.
- From 1975 onward, a consolidated tape was printed that included prints from different exchanges. An ampersand
symbol sits between the ticker symbol and the exchange identifier.
So, looking at the April 9, 1975 (b image) tape, we see "EK&X 90 3/4", which says that
Eastman Kodak was traded at 90 and three quarters on the Philadelphia Stock Exchange.
"A" was for the American Stock Exchange (AMEX), "B" was for Boston, "C" was for the Chicago Stock Exchange or Cincinnati (there is
disagreement in my readings), "M" was for Chicago, "P" was for the Pacific Stock Exchange (most likely San Francisco),
"T" was for the Third Market (i.e., OTC, mostly Nasdaq), "X" was for the Philadelphia Stock Exchange,
"O" for other markets (including INSTINET). No letter indication means it was executed on the NYSE.
- When a price is preceded by an "s", the number preceding the "s"
indicates how many round lots (i.e., 100-share lots) were traded.
So, "SPS 5s10" on the April 9, 1975 (b image) tape, indicates 500 shares of SPS traded at $10 per share.
No "s" indicates a single round lot of 100 shares.
- For 10,000 or more shares, no abbreviation is used. For example, on the March 31, 1994 (figure b) tape I
see "MAX 10s4.13.16" which means 1,000 shares of MAX traded at 4 and thirteen sixteenths. I also
see "COL 110.000s39 5/8" which I read as 110,000 shares of COL traded at 39 and five eighths. I think that the dot followed by
three zeroes means that the number preceding the dot is in 1,000s, and the number after the dot is an actual count (in this case zero).
- I mentioned the handle being dropped to save time. In addition, if you look at the April 9, 1975 (a image) we see
"WMB 5s 34 1/4. 5s 1/4" meaning 500 shares of WMB at 34 and one quarter, followed by another 500 at 34 and one quarter.
We also see "GE 45 1/4 1/4" meaning 100 GE at 45 and one quarter followed by another 100 GE at 45 and one quarter.
- Sometimes, however, when a tape delay was in progress, repeated transactions at the same price were not printed.
- On the May 18, 1973 (a image) tape, we see "T 52 3/8 T.WS 2s6 1/4" meaning one round lot (i.e., 100) shares of
AT&T executed at 52 and three eighths, followed by 200 AT&T warrants executed at 6 and one quarter. Warrants are
stock options issued by the company, rather than ones issued by the CBOE.
- Two very small "s" symbols stacked on top of each other are used to indicate that the count of shares following
is for a stock that does not have a round lot of 100. For example, on the NYSE higher-priced
preference shares and inactive stocks might have a round lot of only 10 shares. On other exchanges
the size of a round lot in such stocks might differ from 10. The unusual size of the round lot is not given
on the tape.
- When a transaction is reported out of proper sequential time order, a note ".SLD" was appended. We can see that on the
August 25, 1966 (a image) tape where it says "TDY.SLD 3s90 3/5".
- OPD indicates an opening transaction that has been delayed.
- SLR followed by a number indicates a seller's option and the number of days to maturity.
- When an error was made, CORR (for correction) preceded the corrected price. Such a correction can be seen on the March 31 1994 (c image)
where it says "CORR TFS 3s47". ERR or CXL indicate that the following information is to me ignored.
- Different share classes are also indicated. For example, on the March 31 1994 (c image) we can see "VIA.B 5s" (but I cannot see the price)
for Viacom class B shares.
- Other information is also given, like approximate volume in the last two hours, or level of the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the
Transportation Average, or the Utilities Average, or the Financials Average.
We can see this in the August 25, 1966 (b and c images) tape, where the reader of the tape (Mr. Ramsay?) has
circled some of the information.
- I still do not know what .XD or "S" stacked above a "T" mean, both of which can be seen in images above.
- Ticker Tape Girls 1918
- This image comes from this US government source with no restriction on its use. The accompanying text says
"Girls operate stock boards at Waldorf-Astoria. The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel is employing girls to operate tickers and stock exchange boards.
The Waldorf is the first to employ girls in its various departments, in order to release men for war work." The picture is dated
November 12, 1918.
- Ticker Tape Parades
- I think the first ticker tape parade in New York was in 1886 to celebrate the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.
Every ticker tape parade, like the one below for Amelia Earhart, is recorded in black granite stripes
(like the one below for Charles Lindbergh) embedded on the parade route, known as the "Canyon of Heroes."
firstname.lastname@example.org.NOSPAM (on average one week before reply; remove ".NOSPAM" before mailing).
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Last Updated: May 7, 2018