For farmers and others interested in the history of American agriculture, the Afton Historical Press has published an impressive new work. Entitled The Grain Merchants: An Illustrated History of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange by Dave Kenney, this book is a beautifully illustrated and clearly written review of how this important regional commodity market developed over the last 125 years.
Beginning in the early 1880s, the Exchange almost immediately grew into one of the world's most important wheat markets, bringing together the abundant grain harvests of the recently settled farms of Minnesota and the Dakotas with the huge flour mills in downtown Minneapolis. At that time, the Exchange was largely a cash market where traders physically judged each year's harvest.
Because of changes in transportation, technology and markets, the Exchange confronted a rapid decline in the first half of the 20th century as the once-dominant Minneapolis flour mills became abandoned industrial ruins. However, the Exchange, like many Midwestern farmers, proved adaptable. It survived and prospered over the decades as it moved into an array of futures trading. Now pieces of paper and electronic blips on computer screens take the place of grain samples on its trading floor.
Kenney recounts this complicated history with great skill. The book also engages the reader with illustrations and photographs on almost every page. The text is direct and allows the reader access into a vanished world when Minneapolis was truly the Mill City.