Markets for futures trading were developed initially to help agricultural producers and consumers manage the price risks they faced harvesting, marketing and processing food crops each year. Today, futures exist not only on agricultural products, but also a wide array of financial, stock and forex markets.
The world’s oldest established futures exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade, was founded in 1848 by 82 Chicago merchants. The first of what were then called “to arrive” contracts were flour, timothy seed and hay, which came into use in 1849. “Forward” contracts on corn came into use in 1851 and gained popularity among merchants and food processors.
Meanwhile, what is now the nation’s largest futures exchange, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, was founded as the Chicago Butter and Egg Board in 1898. At that time, trading was offered in – you guessed it – butter and eggs.
In 2007, CME and CBOT officially merged, and are now collectively known as CME Group Inc., the world’s largest and most diverse derivatives exchange.
Other prominent U.S. commodities exchanges were formed before or just after the turn of the century, and also had their roots in agriculture. At one time, you could trade on the National Metal Exchange, the Rubber Exchange of New York, the National Raw Silk Exchange, and the New York Hide Exchange. Small exchanges like these ultimately merged to become the exchanges we have today.
In the 21st century, online commodity trading has become increasingly popular, and commodity brokers offer front-end interfaces to trade these electronic-based markets. A commodities broker may also continue to offer access to the traditional pit-traded, or open-outcry, markets that established the commodity exchanges.