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What is Ticker Tape?

A telegraph, which was once used to transmit stock information.
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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Ticker tape is a thin ribbon of paper once used in stock ticker machines, which provided a running print-out of stock market fluctuations. Today, stock ticker machines have largely been replaced with digital "tickers" on websites, television news, or LED displays. The ticker tape machine, invented in 1867, first allowed people to see stock quotes in something close to real time.

Before the stock ticker, stock prices were delivered by hand, usually just in a daily digest. Because stock prices fluctuate constantly, being aware of them in real time offers a significant benefit to investors and traders.

The stock ticker was, in a way, the precursor to the modern computer printer. Textual information was transported through wires to the stock ticker machine to be printed out onto ticker tape. In early models, the information transported to the stock ticker was written in Morse code, but in 1869, Thomas Edison developed an alphanumeric system for conveying stock information.

Alphanumeric ticker symbols, codes indicating the different companies trading in the stock market, were used along with numeric indicators of current stock prices. A special typewriter was used to input the information, which was transmitted by telegraph to stock ticker machines and printed out on ticker tape.

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The principle behind Edison's alphanumeric code is still used in modern day stock information, though the ticker symbols have been standardized and updated. In addition, many tickers now use color coding — green, red, and blue or white — so that one can see at a glance whether each company has gained or lost stock market points or remained stable, respectively. The stock ticker became obsolete with the advent of the Internet and digital on-screen displays. Though the stock ticker was an immense improvement over hand-delivery of stock quotes, it did not operate in true real time until 1996, with earlier models running at least 15 to 20 minutes behind.

In the days of ticker tape, old printouts were often shredded to make a type of confetti that could be thrown from office windows during street parades. This practice, common in Manhattan, New York and other urban centers, became known as a "ticker tape parade." Ticker tape parades still exist, though other shredded office documents now serve as the confetti.

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