History of Stock Charts

Lab Reports, Timelines, Visualization
Daily transactions on the New York Stock Exchange published in the New York Times



The first modern stock market was created in Amsterdam in 1611, with the Dutch East India Company marking the first company to be publicly traded. In the United States, the New York Stock Exchange formally emerged in 1817 and the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations (NASDAQ) followed more recently in 1971. 

While the stock market has several centuries of history, I wanted to explore the role of data visualization within the stock market. Investing and trading has historically been an exclusive practice; I was interested in understanding what role data visualization played in allowing trading to become more accessible.


Two articles that informed and inspired my research were “Who Made That Pie Chart?” by Hilary Greenbaum and Dana Rubinstein for the New York Times and “When Did Charts Become Popular?” by Dan Kopf for Priceonomics. These articles discussed notable inventions and publications within the history of charts, but were not exclusively focused on stock charts. Nonetheless, stock charts still found roots in these articles and are now most commonly manifested in pie charts depicting composition of a portfolio or line charts depicting the price of an individual stock over time. 

Additional impactful inspirations were the New York Times’ “25 Days That Changed the World: How COVID-19 Slipped China’s Grasp” and their “George Floyd Protests” timeline. These two examples showed how images and scrollability can be used to draw and maintain user attention. These examples employed vertical timelines to cover emotionally-charged and information-dense events. The two timelines covered events over a short period of time, and did not attempt to visualize a period of time more than one year long.



To create this timeline, I utilized TimelineJS. Created and hosted by Northwestern University’s Knight Lab, TimelineJS allows simplifies timeline visualization by abstracting the timeline compilation. Instead of having to learn JavaScript, users can simply input their events into a Google Spreadsheet and the Knight Lab will publish the completed timeline.


I compiled my list of events from various sources, including newspaper articles and archives, software documentation, and blog posts. Because these events were aggregated from a number of written sources, it was more practical to create a small but relevant data set rather than use an existing data set. A full reference list is included at the end of this post.

After receiving feedback that the timeline provided important events but lacked themes, I added structure to the timeline by grouping the events into three eras: foundations, adoption, and modernization. Each era is shorter in duration than the previous era, showing how progress of stock chart visualization has hastened over time.

A stock chart showing the value of IBM stock created using SAS


Timeline & Interpretation

Please visit the Knight Lab here to view the full timeline.

This timeline of stock charts shows how the nature of invention and progress has changed throughout history. In the “Creation of Charting Foundations” era, individual economists or traders are credited with the invention of new visualization techniques. During this early era, we are able to date events to their publication year, but a lack of records prevents us from pinpointing further details of the events.

In the “Popularization and Adoption of Charts” era, progress in archiving allows us to recognize the exact date of a paradigm shift. For example, on July 4, 1933, the New York Times published its first stock market line chart. Since that date, the Times has published some form of data visualization almost every Tuesday through Saturday (days following a market day).

Since the beginning of the “Proliferation and Modernization of Charting Technology” era, technology has advanced so rapidly that it is no longer possible to attribute inventions to individuals. Instead, progress is marked by the release and versioning of new charting technologies and by the proliferation of consumer investing products.


TimelineJS offers the convenient ability to create timeline visualizations without any overhead or programming experience. Its simplicity is both an asset and a drawback, as I approached the timeline already knowing the constraints of creating a timeline via a Google Spreadsheet.

I found myself referencing articles and milestones published in the New York Times throughout this project. With additional time, I would have liked to conduct a deep dive into the Times’ specific role in influencing the adoption of data visualization.