“Daily Bread”. The rise of the Global Wheat Market (1840-1914)


Image: Luis Astete y Concha


Since the second half of 19th century, a new global market for crops came to the fore and wheat became a true global commodity. The dimension and systematic basis of this global market contributed to the creation of a new social and economic era. Less than a dozen of cereals started to satisfy the majority of human nutrition needs and one in particular – wheat – became almost synonym with “food” in almost all societies. While it called into question the old agriculture order based upon the seasonality and geographical determination of food (the same kind of cereals were available in both hemispheres all year long), the global market of wheat disseminated new economic and social behaviours that reshaped the human societies. The new global trade for grains transformed scarce and perishable food into a modern commodity that is sold and bought in millions of tons across the oceans, satisfying the rising demand of a fast growing world population. Linked to countless technological innovations, which determined an impressive standardisation of grains, the global market of wheat paved the way to the creation of new financial tools for trade – such as futures – which became a model in trading and pricing to which many other commodities converged. For the first time in the history, the price of one commodity that is crucial for the human life, such as the “daily bread”, ended to be decided in the producing area by the producers and started to be fixed away, into specific and anonymous trading places. In spite of its historical relevance, the scholarly studies assigned to the “Commercial revolution” a smaller place than the one of the “Industrial revolution”. It could be pointed out with ease that a global history of wheat still not exist, that the actors of the “commercial revolution” are often neglected, and that only few studies are available about the technical and managerial transformation of trade. This research programme aims to investigate the historical origin of the global wheat market, searching into the history of actors, tools, technologies that nourished the huge but not given fro granted transformation of the “daily bread”.

Principal Investigator
Prof. Carlo Fumian

Members of the research group
Marco Bertilorenzi (University of Padua)
Sven Beckert (Harvard University)
Andrea Caracausi (University of Padua)
Renato Covino (University of Perugia)
Giovanni Federico (University of Pisa)
Giovanni Luigi Fontana (University of Padua)
Giovanni Gozzini (University of Siena)
Paola Molino (University of Padua)
Tommaso Munari (University of Padua)
Giorgio Riello (University of Warwick)
Donald Sassoon (U. London - Queen Mary)
Luciano Segreto (University of Florence)
Francesco Vianello (University of Padua)