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The government took steps toward an extraordinary public investment in U.S. banks and General Motors' stock fell to its lowest price since 1950 on fears it will not be able to weather the downturn. Share prices fell across every industry and for each of the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones industrial average, which was down 678.91, or 7.3 percent, at 8,579.19. The declines came on the one-year anniversary of the Dow's closing high.
"I've never seen a panic like this," said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's. "I've seen stock market drops, but not an overall panic."
The plunge came in a stomach-churning 90 minutes. The Dow was down just 140 points in the early afternoon. But then, wave after wave of selling began to roll through the market.
Stocks are on track for their worst year since 1937.
The Great Depression was a worldwide economic downturn starting in most places in 1929 and ending at different times in the 1930s or early 1940s for different countries. It was the largest and most important economic depression in modern history, and is used in the 21st century as a benchmark on how far the world's economy can fall. The Great Depression originated in the United States; historians most often use as a starting date the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, known as Black Tuesday. The end of the depression in the U.S. is associated with the onset of the war economy of World War II, beginning around 1939.