Functioning of Exchanges: A Brief History and Overview

Functioning of Exchanges: A Brief History and Overview

As long as markets have existed, exchanges have played a critical role in enabling trade between buyers and sellers. An exchange serves as a centralized marketplace where traders can buy and sell a variety of securities such as stocks, bonds, options, futures, and more.

No matter what type of trading and asset you’re interested in, it will most likely take place on an exchange, be it an electronic or a traditional one.

So before you read detailed reviews of exchanges and brokers on the TBR website, it is important to learn the basics. In this article, we delve into the history of exchanges, how they function presently, who trades on them, and what is traded.

The History of Exchanges

The world’s first stock exchange, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, was established in 1602 during the Dutch Golden Age.

The exchange was mostly focused on trading shares of the Dutch East India Company. The establishment was primarily made up of individual merchants trading in coffeehouses, and trading took place via written transactions, with no actual physical trading floor.

In the United States, the Philadelphia Stock Exchange was established in 1790. Shortly after, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) was formed in 1792, with traders gathering under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street. The NYSE quickly grew in prominence and became the largest exchange in the world in the 1920s, a position it maintained until the end of the 20th century.

With the advent of computers and the internet, electronic trading platforms were developed in the 1990s, providing traders with faster and more efficient access to exchanges around the world. Today, exchanges exist in nearly every country around the world, both in physical and electronic form.

How Exchanges Function

Exchanges provide a centralized marketplace where buyers and sellers can trade securities. Buyers place bids to purchase securities at a specific price (known as the “bid” price), while sellers place offers to sell securities at a specific price (known as the “ask” price).

The difference between the bid and ask prices is known as the “spread.”

When a buyer and seller agree on a price, the exchange matches the two parties and executes the trade, with the exchange taking a small fee for facilitating the transaction. The exchange also provides other important services such as maintaining a record of all trades and providing transparency and security to the trading process.

Who Trades on Exchanges

Exchanges are used by a variety of market participants, including institutional investors such as mutual funds and pension funds, as well as retail investors and traders.

The largest market participants tend to be institutional investors, who trade large quantities of securities on behalf of their clients. Retail investors and traders typically trade smaller volumes of securities for their own portfolios.

What is Traded on Exchanges

Exchanges facilitate the trading of a wide variety of securities, including:

  • Stocks – securities that represent a share of ownership in a company
  • Bonds – securities that represent a loan made to a company or government entity
  • Options – contracts that give the holder the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell securities at a specific price in the future
  • Futures – contracts that obligate the holder to buy or sell securities at a specific price in the future
  • Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) – investment funds that trade like stocks and hold a diverse portfolio of securities

Each type of security has its own unique characteristics and risks, and traders must carefully consider their investment objectives and risk tolerance before entering into any trades.


Exchanges are a critical element of the global financial system, providing a central marketplace where buyers and sellers can come together to trade a variety of securities.

As technology and markets continue to evolve, exchanges must continue to adapt and innovate in order to provide traders with the best possible trading experience.

Recently, numerous electronic exchanges were developed, allowing more people to access the world of trading. If you want to start trading, it’s important to first learn about the history and functioning of exchanges in order to better understand how to participate in the market and make informed investment decisions.

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