Chicago Makes a Market

The Chicago Board of Trade is a colorful place, with a colorful history.

Traders at the CBOT bring more than a century and a half of tradition to their jobs. The pits, where buyers and sellers match orders and haggle contracts, have been shaped like octagons since the 1800s, creating a corner for each contract that's bought and sold. Elaborate hand signals, called the “arb” for arbitrage, serve as shorthand for buyers and sellers who need to communicate orders quickly across the pits. Palms facing toward the body mean buying, as in bringing something toward you. Palms outward means sell—you're pushing the products away. To show numbers one through five, you hold your fingers straight up; six through nine, hand ...

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