In 2009, long-serving UC Board of Trustees member Buck Niehoff approached UC Journalism program Director Jon Hughes and me, Assistant Director Elissa Sonnenberg, with the seed of an idea. Did we know, he asked, that Cincinnati was home to the world’s first completely automated stock exchange? That, in fact, the Cincinnati Stock Exchange made financial history through its innovative use of computers and telecommunications technology during a time when Wall Street brokers strongly disagreed with the development of a decentralized market system?
We didn’t know then, but were soon to discover details of Cincinnati history stored safely in more than 100 boxes at the Cincinnati Historical Society Library. The CSE’s archives had been donated to the library when operations moved to Chicago in the mid-1990s. Everything from CSE board meeting minutes to press clips to Congressional testimony resided in box after box of history. Images of Cincinnati business pioneers mixed with documents showing the early years of deregulation of stock markets.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. As a Cincinnati native, I found that I was far from alone in never having heard of the Cincinnati Stock Exchange. With the blessing and financial support of Buck Niehoff, whose older brother Nick oversaw the CSE during some of its most critical years, and support from the UC Journalism program and its students, I launched one of two Journalism seminars focused on uncovering the history, and the impact, of the CSE. That was in the fall of 2009.
My small but determined group of upper-level students learned much about the CSE. We learned that the CSE had launched industry-changing technology that allowed small brokers and their clients to compete with Wall Street. We learned that Charles Schwab, E.F. Hutton and Ed Wedbush’s brokerage empires all trace their lineage to the CSE’s innovative practices. We welcomed Nick Niehoff, former CSE president and automation leader, who explained the principles behind trading stock and equities markets. He also shared stories of being afraid for his safety when New York Stock Exchange supporters fought to suppress the CSE’s new way of doing business. We learned that Nick Niehoff’s mantra, “better, faster, cheaper,” spawned a revolution that touched more than financial investors. The technology behind creating an interconnected national market system where traders competed for business laid the groundwork for such diverse innovations as computerized airline reservations and ATMs.
Students learned the ins and outs of primary research at the Cincinnati Historical Society Library at Union Terminal. They sifted through boxes, created works-in-progress web pages and searched for expert sources who could enlighten their reading and put the CSE in context, from its beginnings in the late 1800s, until the end of the 20th century.
A second quarter of seminar students continued to research the CSE and related companies, including Control Data Corporation, where programmers developed the operating system that fueled CSE’s success. But what we found, again and again, was a lack of comprehensive coverage of the CSE’s history and impact. And we knew, as journalists with keen eyes for good stories, that this one was important not just for history buffs, but for today’s investors and business leaders.
From the start, this project was conceived as a website, a place where historical data could be stored and accessed by world-wide visitors. What we didn’t realize until we kept digging and asking questions, was how important the website would be in our continuing quest to deepen and enrich the story.
So, on this site, you’ll find the basic story of the Cincinnati Stock Exchange. You can read about its founding, its progress through the early 20th century and see images of some of its founding and most illustrious members. You can also dive into the primary research we used to tell the stories, from SEC reports and letters to and from Congressional leaders to press clippings from local and national newspapers and magazines. You can hear interviews in which Nick Niehoff of CSE and Peter DuPont of Control Data Corporation describe how their lives intersected with financial history. You can share these stories with your friends on Twitter, Delicious and StumbleUpon, among other social networking avenues.
But here’s what we are really excited about. You can help the seed that we have planted on these pages take root and flourish. We know there are many people out there with first-hand knowledge of the CSE. And we want their stories. So we’ve added features on this site that allow you to contribute and give us opportunities to continue to build and grow resources about the CSE to benefit a bigger, broader audience. Simply click on the “Share Your Story” link and get typing!
My thanks to the Journalism students who made this project possible. You’ll read their bylines, but two stand out as critical to the creation of this resource. One is Cheryl McDonald, whose enthusiasm quite nearly surpassed my own. The other is Megan Groves, now a graduate, who never shied away from complex topics and ideas that needed extra clarification and explaining.
Each student involved in the courses contributed much, and, I hope, learned much in the process of putting this project online. We are all in their debt.
My thanks also to Buck and Nick Niehoff, a dynamic duo with more information stored in their brains than we will ever be able to put in writing. Their cooperation, support and encouragement kept us energized through ongoing challenges. Finally, thanks to UC’s Journalism program, where projects like this have an opportunity to grow along with the vision and imagination of faculty and students. In a world where information delivery methods are constantly evolving, it’s important to remember that journalists who seek the truth and share it will never go out of style.