Up till the middle of the 19th century, the trading of shares accounted for just a small proportion of stock market activities, in contrast to transactions involving government bonds. This gradually changed with the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of industrial companies. In Belgium, Brussels took over from Antwerp as the leading financial and business centre and the Brussels Stock Exchange was set up by a decree issued by Napoleon in 1801. Napoleon’s greatest move was however to legalise the existence of joint-stock companies in 1807, attracting more capital to the Stock Exchange and allowing a rapid circulation of savings. Industrial companies (railways, coal mines, steel-makers and textile producers) quickly seized this opportunity to develop.
The inauguration of the Brussels Stock Exchange
In L’Europe illustrée. (Bibliothèque royale de Belgique)
A renewal of the city centre
From 1873 onwards, the Brussels stock market boomed. Symbolising this growth, the construction of a huge building to accommodate the day-to-day operations of some 200 brokers (there would be 1,000 of them at the end of the century!) was planned.
Inaugurated on 27 December 1873, it was designed by the architect Léon Suys. It was part of the city centreís drainage plan.
Commemorative coin in bronze, struck in 1874 on the
occasion of the inauguration of the new Brussels Stock Exchange
L171/18. (Bibliothèque royale de Belgique)
Silver medal from 1868, depicting the planned Brussels Stock Exchange as part of the Senne drainage works
Coll. Surmont. K297/01. (Bibliothèque royale de Belgique)
Brussels becomes « The place »
In the first half of the 19th century, nearly 200 limited liability companies were established in Belgium in various industrial sectors. They would all play a part in the countryís economic development. With capital requirements growing rapidly, the Stock Exchange supported this development, especially in the second half of the century. Even so, in 1865 for example, state funds represented 90% of tangible assets traded in Brussels!
In 1873, a new law greatly facilitated the establishment of limited liability companies, whilst a great deal of capital flowed into Brussels in the aftermath of the 1870-1871 Franco-German War: within just 25 years, the number of securities traded on the Brussels Stock Exchange increased fivefold, reaching about 1,500 at the end of the century.