A sudden rush to buy potatoes turned Chicago's Mercantile Exchange last week into a madhouse. Sweating and shouting, scores of traders jammed the potato arena, in a single day bought a record 479 carloads (normal day: under 10), whanged prices from $3.10 to $3.75 per 100 pounds.

After an hour's trading, the panting ticker printed only the latest price, was hopelessly behind on volume. The Exchange's 15 bookkeepers worked until 3 a.m. to settle the day's business—biggest in the 21-year history of the Exchange.

For this strange spree, most Chicago spudmen credited the...

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