The Chicago Board of Trade was founded in 1848, and was the first major marketplace to trade "futures" - contracts to deliver goods for a predetermined price.

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The goods were almost always grain at the time. Initially, the contract helped both sides: it would guarantee the farmer a certain dollar amount for his grain, and the buyer could count on the grain being delivered, regardless of the market price at the time of delivery.

However, "it wasn't long before people who had no intention of ever buying or selling wheat began trading the contracts. They were speculators, hoping to buy low and sell high or sell high and buy low."