Program for the opening of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange ( CME ) building listing Will Rogers as toastmaster , April 25 , 1928 . a longstanding “ rivalry between the blueblooded CBOT and the upstart CME .”
In his memoir , former CME Chairman Leo Melamed spun the pugnacious , second fiddle nature of the CME in a positive vein , writing that although the CME “ was light years behind ” the CBOT :
The Merc was serious business and , similar to my former boss Merrill Lynch , was certainly bullish on America . But that didn ’ t mean we had to be staid , stuffy , stiff and devoid of attitude . No , we weren ’ t Wall Street . And we weren ’ t stocks . We were something else that grew out of the nation ’ s heartland : pioneers , we told ourselves , fueled by ingenuity and guts , and dedicated to preserving the spirit of the frontier . As far as I was concerned , the futures industry was still a vast business frontier waiting to be explored and developed . And maybe all that pioneering talk sounded corny , but this was Chicago , the tough , bigshouldered city with nerves of steel .
The unpretentious Rogers , who hailed from the nation ’ s heartland , fit right in with the scrappy CME crowd . 2
In his address that night , Rogers proclaimed in wonder , “ You can buy eggs on this market the same way you can buy General Motors stock . So , get you some eggs ,” he continued , “ and hold ’ em . Somebody will eat ’ em . If you can ’ t pay your cold storage bill , hardboil ’ em and sell ’ em for picnics .”
Rogers ’ s understanding of commodities markets was evidently on par with that of most other Americans . The Chicago Tribune described the address aptly , “ Will Rogers , who as toastmaster of the Chicago Mercantile exchange dedicatory banquet speeches , scrambled words like a good chef scrambles eggs , the transformed article being palatable and healthful .”
Humor is curative and can help ease tensions between factions who disagree , often vehemently , with each other . If we can laugh at ourselves and our own absurdities , if we can see our position from a different , non-threatening perspective , perhaps we can begin to work through our differences and make real progress . Rogers ’ s humorous take on the issues of his day was a gift to the nation .
Although humor won ’ t resolve the long-running tension between Wall Street and the rest of the country , it can often help lower the temperature and allow cooler heads to prevail . The same is true in the political realm . We don ’ t need to wish Rogers back ; he would probably be canceled as a racist or a bigot today . But we do need a good laugh now and then as we deal with the financial stress and strain from the covid pandemic .
Will Rogers deserves the final word : “ I tell ’ em that this country is bigger than Wall Street . If they don ’ t believe it , show ’ em the map .”
8 FINANCIAL HISTORY | Fall 2021 | www . MoAF . org