Commodity Exchange, Inc.

The Commodity Exchange, Inc. was one of two similarly named organizations (the Unemployed Labor and Commodity Exchange, Inc. was the other) founded in February 1933 as barter exchanges. 

The Commodity Exchange was organized by a committee named by Milwaukee Mayor Daniel Webster Hoan.  According to contemporary documents, the mission of the organization had four components:

  1. Becoming a voice on all matters relating to unemployment and economic conditions in the city, state and nation.
  2. Strengthening the morale of people during the Depression.
  3. Conducting a large barter and exchange warehouse.
  4. Employment, home saving and rent assistance. 

Three classes of individuals were part of the organization: (1) unemployed who did not receive community aid, (2) part-time unemployed, and (3) employed people with means who were willing to help in the organization by giving a substantial amount of time to it.

The initial Board of Directors of the organization was:

Joseph C. Brauer – PresidentSelf-employed accountant
John Baonahowicz – Vice PresidentPresident of the Hosiery Union
Otto Harbicht – TreasurerBusinessman
Gerald Zander – SecretaryCity Engineer’s Office
Bernard Hoffman – DirectorA. O. Smith Company

An article in the February 24, 1933 Milwaukee Sentinel explained how the exchange operated:

A typical operation . . . would be a painting job some shoe merchant might want done at his store but which he did not feel business justified his having done. If he could pay for it with shoes that had lain dead on his shelves a long time, he would gladly go ahead.

He asks the exchange for a painter. A competent man is sent out, and when the job is done, one of our appraisers decides how much should be charged for it. The merchant pays in shoes, that are brought to the exchange.

We pay the painter in scrip, which he can use at the exchange to buy shoes or whatever the exchange has that he wants. As soon as the scrip comes back to the exchange, it is destroyed, so that the amount outstanding will always be equal to the value of the goods we have in stock.

Two different series of scrip were issued by the Commodity Exchange. The first was denominated in dollars and cents in values of $.05, $.10, $.25, $.50, $1.00, $5.00 and $10.00. The second was denominated in units and issued in values of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 units.

The change was necessitated because of a question as to whether the scrip violated Wisconsin law which prohibited a corporation from issuing money or an equivalent for money. Ultimately, the Wisconsin Attorney General opined that the Exchange’s barter scrip was legal even though the scrip denominated in dollars and cents.

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