Merrill Lynch brings Wall Street to Main Street

From the beginning, Charles Merrill believed strongly in educating the public to become intelligent investors. His vision was to supply average individual investors with meaningful advice and insights to help empower them in choosing investments with confidence. During the late 1940s and 50s, his vision was put into practice on a large scale and proved to be popular and effective with Merrill Lynch’s customers.

Believing that consumers educated with investment advice would be more willing to invest in the stock market, Merrill Lynch did something unprecedented—educated the American public through mass-market media. Merrill Lynch published easy-to-read pamphlets on various investing topics.

The 1946 publication, “How to Read a Financial Report” became an instant success followed by “How to Invest” in 1948. That same year, Merrill Lynch published a full-page educational advertisement in the New York Times, “What Everybody Ought to Know About The Stock Market.” In response to the advertisement, Merrill Lynch received well over 5,000 letters and requests, quite a few expressing a sentiment along the lines of, “I majored in economics but never understood the stock market.” Over the next 10 years, three million reprints were sent to clients.

In February 1949, the Merrill Lynch San Francisco office announced an investment seminar for women. More than 800 women lined up around the block waiting for the doors to open. Merrill Lynch went on to offer similar investment forums for women around the country.

Efforts to educate consumers continued. A one-week “How to Invest Show” event at New York’s 71st Street Armory in 1955 drew more than 100,000 people and led to the opening of an investment kiosk in the Grand Central Station Concourse.

In an age before personal computers, Merrill Lynch was literally taking Wall Street to Main Street. In 1954, the firm outfitted three blue-and-silver buses with desks, wireless telephones, stock market tickers listing prices of seventy stocks, and well-trained account executives. From bases in Chicago, Boston and New York, they fanned out into the sprawling new suburbs, where in the lots of supermarkets, train stations and factories, customers could enter the bus as if it were an office, meet with an account executive and conduct business.

This enthusiastic effort was a great success, leading to Merrill Lynch becoming the best-known brokerage firm in America and abroad. When members of the Soviet press came to visit New York City in October 1955, they stopped at two symbols of American capitalism: the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and the headquarters of Merrill Lynch at 70 Pine Street.

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