The Chicago Board of Trade (also CBOT, CBT) was founded on April 3, 1848 by 82 Chicago merchants and business leaders in a flour store attic, and continues today as the world’s oldest commodities exchange. The Board of Trade has been entwined with Chicago politics from its inception; seven of the first 20 mayors of Chicago were founding members. The actions of the founding members not only solidified the infrastructure of Chicago and launched commodity trading in America, it also set precedents for developing trading practices and relationships with boards of trade and chambers of commerce around the US and internationally. Thus, their history is intertwined with Chicago history but also with the history of commodities trading. The members played a part in nationwide historical events as well. In 1860, the Board of Trade Battery regiment was formed as President Lincoln issued a call for able men to fight in the Civil War.
The exchange was initially formed to help structure the grain trade in the Midwest. Before the Board of Trade’s formation, the market for grain was extremely unstable with prices high in the winter and low in the summer, resulting in poor economic conditions for farmers. The early Board of Trade helped to create stable economic conditions for regional farmers and also worked to create standards and grades for various grains along with inspection processes to help ensure buyers received the goods for which they had paid.
In 1859 the Illinois legislature granted the Chicago Board of Trade a charter allowing self-regulation. The Board of Directors, together with the President and Vice Presidents, governed the Association and controlled and managed its property and business. The Chairman of the Board presided over all Association and Board meetings. The established organization of the Board of Trade in its early years was mostly maintained over time with frequent revisions to rules and additions and subtractions to the organization based upon the economic, political, and technological climate at the time.
By 1865 the CBOT had moved into the Chicago Chamber of Commerce Building and had about 150 members. Previously, the Board of Trade was at the Newhouse building on South Water Street, where it had relocated in 1860. The Board of Trade has operated out of their current building since 1930. Designed by Holabird & Root, the art deco building was the tallest in Chicago until 1965. Atop the building is a 31-foot sculpture of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. The 45-story building, now a National Historic Landmark, is located at 141 West Jackson Boulevard.
The Exchange Today
With the launch of GLOBEX in 1992, trading became electronic. Trading had been previously conducted by open outcry, a system whereupon traders and brokers in the pit would shout out their bids and offers. This practice was accompanied by a distinctive system of hand symbols. Electronic trading continued to grow, and currently the majority of trading is done electronically.
Some exchanges & organizations have become subsidiaries of CBOT, notably the MidAmerica Commodity Exchange in 1986. In 2007, the Board of Trade merged with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to become CME Group. The New York Mercantile Exchange was acquired by CME Group in 2008. In 2012, CME Group bought the Kansas City Board of Trade.
The Chicago Board of Trade collection contains materials documenting the history of the exchange; its executive officers and members; its operations, including committees and departments; its rules, by-laws, and regulations; and statistical information. The materials include correspondence, reports, ledgers, meeting minutes, legal briefs, court dockets, rulebooks, visual materials, financial records, press clips, publications, transcripts, contracts, rulings and resolutions, statistics, and other documents.