During the war, U.S. commodity exchanges had little to do. Unlike World War I, when skyrocketing wheat and corn prices made millionaires in the pit from morn till midafternoon, the U.S. government controlled the big buying. It set ceilings on all important commodities except rye, made the once hectic exchanges as quiet as country stores. But traders squirmed under this cosy arrangement.

What they feared was that the New Dealing Administration would decide to continue this role in peacetime, virtually do away with the free commodity market. To ward off this threat, seven of the nation's big exchanges formed the National...

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