30 ETF Milestones Over 30 Years

30 ETF Milestones Over 30 Years

The first U.S.-listed ETF’s launch in 1993 sparked a series of innovations that expanded the industry.

Reviewed by: Heather Bell
Edited by: Heather Bell

This article is part of an ongoing series celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first ETF listed on U.S. exchanges. 



Read more from our 30th anniversary coverage:

‘SPDR Woman’ Helped Drive ETF Innovation

Jim Ross Looks Back Over SPY’s 30 Years

ETF Industry’s Next 30 Years of Twists and Turns 

Vanguard Zeros in on BlackRock’s ETF Crown


The SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY) hit U.S. exchanges 30 years ago this week with roughly $6.5 million in assets and to little fanfare. Three decades later, the launch has become one of the most successful to date, with an industry-leading $354.6 billion in assets.  

It would have been hard to imagine in 1993 that assets in the ETF industry globally would be approaching $10 trillion in 2023. In fact, last year’s more than $505 billion intake was the second largest on record, according to data from the research firm ETFGI. 

That’s not all that’s happened over 30 years of ETF investing.  

While SPY certainly leads the way, there have been dozens of evolutions and iterations of ETFs worth revisiting. From actively managed ETFs that first got the green light in 2008 to single-stock funds that hit markets last year, there has been plenty to keep investors busy. 

ETF.com has compiled a list of 30 milestones in the ETF industry. While it’s not an exhaustive one by any means, it helps put into context all of the progress that has happened over the past three decades of ETF investing. 




The SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY) makes its debut as the first U.S.-listed ETF in January. 


The SPDR S&P Midcap 400 ETF Trust (MDY) launches in May. 


iShares, then owned by Morgan Stanley, debuts international ETFs with international exposure for the first time. 

SPY crosses $1 billion in assets. 


The Select Sector SPDR ETFs debut some of the first to track S&P 500 sectors. 


The Invesco QQQ Trust (QQQ) launches. 


Small cap ETFs debuted with the launch of the iShares Core S&P Small-Cap ETF (IJR)

Factor-based ETFs debuts with an iShares launch. 

The dot-com bubble bursts. 


The Sept. 11 attacks sends SPY into bear territory. 


iShares rolls out the iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond ETF (SHY), the first bond ETF, in July. 


The SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) launches in November. It is the first physical gold ETF. 

iShares debuts a China-focused ETF for direct access to Chinese markets. 


iShares debuts sustainable ETFs incorporating an environmental, social and governance strategy. 


ProShares launches the first leveraged/inverse ETFs in June. 


The subprime mortgage crisis starts in April, precipitating the Global Financial Crisis. 


Active ETFs are approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission for the first time. 


Bitcoin, the first cryptocurrency, begins trading in January. 


Term-maturity ETFs debut with bonds that all mature in the same year. 

The Flash Crash in May brings high-frequency trading under scrutiny. 


SPY crosses $100 billion in assets in January. 


Bond ETF AUM skyrockets to $500 billion globally. 

SPY crosses $200 billion in assets in August. 


The first defined outcome ETFs launch in August. 


The Securities and Exchange Commission passed the ETF Rule in September, streamlining the process for new ETF launches. 

ETFs reach a total of $4 trillion globally. 


The COVID-19 pandemic in March triggers a 34% drawdown in the market. 


The first bitcoin futures ETF launches in October. 


Single-stock ETFs debut for the first time in the U.S. in July. 


SPY turns 30 in January. 

Heather Bell is a former managing editor of etf.com. She has also held editorial positions at Dow Jones Indexes and Lehman Brothers. Bell is a graduate of Dartmouth college and resides in the Denver area with her two dogs.