The three major stock exchanges in the United States serve as centers of commerce for some of the largest publicly-traded companies in the world. Some of these exchanges have existed for hundreds of years and occupy buildings with just as much history. Other stock exchanges have no place of business at all and exist solely in the digital realm.
The New York Stock Exchange
The New York Stock Exchange was first founded in 1792. This Exchange houses some of the nation's largest publicly-traded corporations, including McDonald's and Walmart. These large corporations make up what are known as blue chip stocks; companies that have achieved a level of success and stability reflected in the slow, but fairly reliable rise in stock value. Blue chip stocks are viewed as conservative investments on the NYSE. The majority of stock trading at the NYSE is done face-to-face on the Exchange's New York City trading floor.
NASDAQ is a virtual stock market. Unlike the NYSE, this stock market lacks a physical location and exists solely on the digital market through an electronic network of dealers and brokers. This exchange deals almost elusively with Internet-based companies and technological corporations. NASDAQ rose to prominence in the 1990's on the wings of the tech boom that saw the rise of companies like Dell, Sun Microsystems and Cisco. Some of the largest tech corporations in the United States are represented on NASDAQ, including Google and Microsoft.
American Stock Exchange
The American Stock Exchange is the third major stock exchange in the United States. The Exchange was originally created as an alternative to the NYSE, but that role is largely filled by NASDAQ. The National Association of Securities Dealers purchased the AMEX in 1998. Since that time the AMEX is used primarily for small-cap stock trading. A corporation's stock is considered small-cap if the corporation has a market capitalization or worth between $300 million and $2 billion.
Dow Jones Industrial Average
In 2011, a selection of 30 stocks chosen using portions of the NYSE, NASDAQ and AMEX are used to compile the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This figure is used as a barometer for U.S. stock market health and industrial trading, both domestically and abroad. The DJIA is also used to gauge the economic growth or detraction of the United States. According to the Investing Answers website, as of March 2010, the DJIA removed several of its original 12 stocks from average calculation, including General Motors, Citigroup and Cisco.