Staff at the Financial Times ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange
Source: Ben Hider Photography (via Wikimedia Commons)

Staff at the Financial Times ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange

Not Just Anyone Gets to Ring the NYSE Bell — But Here's How to Get the Honor

Amber Garrett - Author
By

Jul. 20 2022, Published 12:23 p.m. ET

Perhaps the most time-honored tradition of Wall Street is the ringing of the New York Stock Exchange opening bell, a ceremony that signals another day of trading is about to begin. There are a some rules about who gets to ring the NYSE bell, and who isn't eligible.

Let's get into everything there is to know about the NYSE bell ceremony, from the history of the tradition to how you might one day get to ring the bell yourself!

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First off, it may surprise you to learn that the "tradition" of having guests ring the NYSE bell isn't actually that old. While the first guest to ring the bell was a 10-year-old game show winner named Leonard Ross in 1956, the stock exchange didn't truly start making a regular thing of inviting guests to ring the bell until the 1990s. Before then, the bell was typically rung by a member of the trading floor.

nyse opeing bell ceremony
Source: getty images
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Here's how one gets invited to ring the NYSE bell:

Typically, only publicly traded companies listed on the stock exchange are extended the privilege of a bell ceremony. The NYSE website has a bell request form where a company may put in a request for a bell ceremony. The most commonly accepted justifications for the honor are IPOs, founding anniversaries, product launches, and major company milestones.

Sometimes, nonprofits or other public figures like Olympic athletes may be invited or have a request to ring the bell granted. These exceptions are considered on a case-by-case basis.

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nyse bell ceremony olympics
Source: Getty Images

The "original" bell system that was in place since 1903 was updated in the 1980s.

While now the opening bell sounds are made with the press of a button, the sound used to be made by manually hammering a brass bell. Before the iconic bell was deployed in 1903, a Chinese gong was actually the sound that signaled the start of a trading day.

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And before the gong, the start of trading would be signaled by the rapping of a gavel. The gavel tradition has been retained by having one of the ceremonial bell ringers of the day hammer a gavel three times after the bell finishes tolling.

There is some very exact timing for each bell ceremony, with the opening bell sounding precisely 10 seconds before the start of trading and the closing bell occurring 15 seconds before the end of the day.

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The NASDAQ has a bell ceremony as well.

Several blocks away from the Financial District, NASDAQ has a similar ceremony in Times Square. In addition to the honor of ringing the opening or closing bell, guest companies at NASDAQ also get some free advertising for their firm on the exchanges very prominent LED marquees.

The criteria for receiving the honor at NASDAQ are very similar to those employed downtown, with most honored requests coming either from companies making their debut listing or for established NASDAQ companies celebrating a major milestone. That said, individuals being honored, such as athletes, nonprofit leaders, and noteworthy figures may get the nod from time to time.

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While the ceremony itself is brief, guests at either exchange typically have a reception beforehand, before they are led by an exchange executive to the floor to ring the bell.

It's clearly an exciting event no matter what market events may have transpired the day before or the day preceding. With an entire floor of traders cheering you on, it would be hard not to smile ear to ear. That's why, even on the most dismal day, virtually every bell ceremony guest looks like they're having the best day of their life.

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