The Most Significant Events in ETF History

Published on by on October 7, 2013 | Updated February 25, 2014

Since the very first ETF launched in 1993, the world of exchange traded products has quickly grown into an investing powerhouse. Over the years, we have seen a number of “ETF firsts” that have forever changed the industry. Below, we plot some of the most significant moments in the history of ETFs [for more ETF news and analysis subscribe to our free newsletter].

You can adjust the blue scroll bar by clicking the “<>” bubbles to expand and contract the timeline that is visible. Clicking on a bubble will show you what happened on that particular date in time.

Below is the full list of the aforementioned events.

Date Event Details
1/22/1993 The First ETF The SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY, A) was the first exchange traded product ever. Today, it is not only the largest ETF in the world, but also one of the biggest investment funds available. With well over $100 billion in assets and trading volumes often topping 100 million, this fund is likely to stay on top of the ETF world for some time to come.
3/12/1996 First International ETF This day saw 17 ETFs from iShares each focusing on a unique country like Japan, Italy, the U.K. and others. All 17 of the funds are still open and trading today.
1/13/1998 First Dow Jones ETF State Street introduced the first product wholly dedicated to the Dow early on in the ETF game. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF (DIA, A-) remains one of the largest and most popular funds in the world to this day.
3/10/1999 First Nasdaq ETF Invesco PowerShares is responsible for the first product designed to track the tech-heavy Nasdaq. The QQQ ETF (QQQ, A-) tracks the Nasdaq-100 and has long been among the most popular ETFs. The fund debuted with the ticker “QQQ,” which was changed to “QQQQ” in 2004, only to see it changed back to “QQQ” in 2011.
5/22/2000 First Small-Cap ETF iShares launched several small cap ETFs in May, including the iShares Russell 3000 ETF (IWV, A) and the Core S&P Small-Cap ETF (IJR, A). iShares would go on to launch several more small cap funds as the year progressed.
5/22/2000 First Mid-Cap ETF Along with debuting the first funds focused on the small cap sector, iShares also rolled out the Core S&P Mid-Cap ETF (IJH, A-). Just two months later the issuer released two more funds that added a value and growth spin to the mid-cap space.
7/10/2000 First Brazil ETF Another great milestone, iShares debuted the first-ever Brazil ETF in July of 2000. The BRIC nation has been attracting the attention of investors for quite some time as it has offered high growth and strong potential. As such, it was no surprise to see the iShares MSCI Brazil Capped ETF (EWZ, B+) flourish into one of the most successful ETFs on the market.
7/22/2002 First Fixed Income ETFs It took the ETF world nearly 10 years to introduce funds that focused on the fixed income space, but iShares stepped in to break the cycle. In July of 2002, iShares introduced the first four fixed income funds, with the most notable addition being the iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF (LQD, A-).
11/13/2002 First Broad Emerging Market ETF Emerging market growth had long been sought out by retail investors, but the first broad option in the ETF world would not be seen until the end of 2002. The BLDRS Emerging Markets 50 ADR Index Fund (ADRE, B+), which is still around today, invests in approximately 50 ADRs based in emerging markets.
4/24/2003 First Equal Weight ETF One of the most defining characteristics of the ETF world has been the various options for playing the market. 2003 saw the first equal weighted product launch to great success, with it often outperforming its cap-weighted peers. The first equal weight product was the S&P Equal Weight ETF (RSP, B+).
10/5/2004 First China ETF Another major milestone was the introduction of the first China product, as this has arguably been the most popular emerging market from an investing standpoint. The first fund wholly dedicated to China was the iShares China Large-Cap ETF (FXI, B+), which is now home to billions in assets.
11/18/2004 First Gold ETF The first gold product was a monumental moment in the ETF world, as it allowed for investors of all walks of life to make an allocation to one of the most expensive metals out there. Debuting in 2004, the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD, A-) is a physically-backed gold fund that represents 1/10th the price of an ounce of gold.
4/21/2006 First Silver ETF After seeing the wild success of State Street’s GLD, iShares stepped into the ring with the first-ever silver ETF. The iShares Silver Trust (SLV, C+) hit the markets in early 2006 and has been one of the most heavily traded commodity products ever since.
5/16/2006 First Gold Miners ETF The first gold miner ETF was another product that the industry had been anxiously awaiting. Having debuted in mid 2006, the Market Vectors TR Gold Miners (GDX, B+) offers exposure to gold miners of all shapes and sizes across the globe.
6/6/2006 The First ETN Barclay’s iPath debuted the first exchange traded notes in June of 2006. These debt-linked instruments may employ credit risk, but they often offer tax advantages and incur no tracking error. Two ETNs were introduced this day: The S&P GSCI Total Return Index ETN (GSP, B) and the Dow Jones-UBS Commodity Index TR ETN (DJP, A).
6/19/2006 First Leveraged and Inverse ETFs The introduction of leveraged and inverse ETFs in 2006 would spark debates that will likely never be resolved. Some feel that these products add to market volatility and create more problems than they solve, while others have attempted to discredit those theories. ProShares introduced a line of six leveraged and inverse products that allowed investors to take positions in popular benchmarks like the Nasdaq and S&P 500.
3/25/2008 First Active ETF In 2008 the SEC began issuing exemptive orders for fully transparent active products, allowing for the first active ETF to make its debut. Now closed, the first active product was the Bear Stearns Current Yield Fund (YYY). That ticker was revived in 2013 for the High Income ETF (YYY, B+) from YieldShares.
11/5/2008 First 3X Leveraged ETF Adding even more fuel to the fire, Direxion introduced the first 3X leveraged products near the end of 2008, just as the Great Recession was nearing its depths. Offering five bull/bear pairs, the new products gained popularity among traders and the more active investing space.
1/29/2009 First Volatility ETF Barclays iPath cracked the trading world wide open with the introduction of the first volatility ETNs. Both (VXX, B+) and (VXZ, B) are iPath’s most traded products with VXX being one of the most heavily-traded exchange traded vehicles in the world.
3/9/2009 SPY Hits Its Bottom SPY bottoms out, signaling the end of the Great Recession. The fund would jump nearly 6% the following trading day and continue to rise for the coming years. Note that this was not a historical low for the fund, but this multi-year bottom is perhaps more significant because it signaled that the U.S. recovery had begun.
4/2/2009 First MLP ETF Incorporating MLPs into the ETF structure brought a number of efficiencies into the space that were simply not previously available. The first MLP product, which debuted in early 2009, was the Alerian MLP Index ETN (AMJ, A-). The MLP space has exploded ever since with a number of issuers tossing their hat into the ring, attempting to cash in on the trend.
11/3/2009 First Commission-Free ETFs Charles Scwhab brought cost competition to a whole new level when it debuted four products that could be traded commission-free on its platform. Today, there are several hundred ETFs that can be traded commission free on a number of different trading platforms.
5/6/2010 The Flash Crash Though the flash crash was originally blamed on ETFs, their actual involvement has been heavily debated over the years. Within a period of roughly five minutes, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1,000 points (9%) only to recover almost all of the losses just a short time later. The event prompted regulators to install circuit breakers and other measures to protect markets from a repeat performance.
12/1/2010 ETF Assets Surpass $1 Trillion In December of 2010, ETFs broke through a major milestone; $1 trillion in total assets. Since cracking the barrier the industry has never looked back as analysts see only growth for years to come.
8/19/2011 GLD Becomes The Largest ETF For a very brief period in 2011, GLD surpassed SPY in total assets under management. GLD would hold the crown for a short period until falling off, allowing SPY to reclaim the number one spot with authority.
4/2/2013 The First Nigeria ETF Launches The ETF world widened its reach to emerging markets when the first-ever Niegria ETF debuted. The Global X Nigeria Index ETF (NGE) was the first of its kind, offering exposure to Nigerian equities.
5/1/2013 ETF Assets Top $1.5 Trillion After crossing the $1 trillion milestone at the end of 2010, the ETF world wasted little time tacking on another $500 billion in assets. Aided by a long-running bull market and a wider adoption of the products, this was a monumental day for the ETF world as it continues to soar higher.