I've been studying the history of market corners in wheat, and ran across a gem which I thought there were no intact copies.

D. W. Griffith made a silent movie called A Corner in Wheat back in 1909 about a ruthless speculator who cornered the wheat market much like Leiter attempted to do in 1898. The spec put on his squeeze, got rich and took his friends and bevy of beauties to celebrate in high style complete with toasts of champagne and gallons of hubris.

Incidentally, his movie had the first cinematic depiction of trading in the wheat pit. While the spec and his gang were partying, the poor suffered, children went hungry, farmers were wiped out, bakeries ran out of bread, and there was social upheaval with police action.

The tone of the movie was not kind to speculators which was par for the course in those days. Grain traders have never been popular, blamed by everyone from the farmer, the miller, the government, all the way to the consumer for the ills in the world.

The period of 1875-1915 was a time when the grain trade was under fire on all sides. Griffith capitalized on that public sentiment and made sure to follow the age old Hollywood program where the rich are always evil and the poor are noble beings. He made sure that the protagonist met a bad end(drowning in his own wheat in an elevator accident), proof that karma will always catch up with the bad rich guy. Still, nobody ended up happy at the end of this movie.

The Griffith movie is based on the Frank Norris story "A Deal in Wheat" and his novel The Pit. Norris was working on his Epic of the Wheat trilogy of novels when he died of a ruptured appendix at age 32. He and Stephen Crane, who also died at a young age, are essential reading if you want to understand why so many European and American intellectuals thought Socialism would surely be coming to America after the turn of the 19th century.


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