25 things vanishing in America, part 2: Trading pits

the pit
the pit

One of my favorite scenes from the movie Ferris Bueler's Day Off is when his friend Cameron is imitating the Three Stooges-like hand gestures of the traders on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade. These types of trading pits are still around, surprisingly, given that financial experts were predicting their demise since the late eighties. Now there's a new system in place, hybrid trading, that lets computers do most of the heavy lifting, putting traditional trading pits on the endangered list.

In 2006, floor traders handled 86% of shares traded in a single day. A year later, that number plummeted to 20%. The elimination of human errors, especially those that rack up expensive fines, and increased speed and efficiency are reasons why technology looks so much better compared to the sweltering, yelling, frantic hand gesturing of the trading pits. A "trading floor" is any type of venue where trading takes place. But now they're full of desks with computers and involve a lot of mouse-clicking. Traditional trading pits are slowly being phased out, putting an end to the infamous physicality of trading.

I was on the floor of the Mercantile Stock Exchange in 2006, when things were starting to look especially sparse and floor traders and the clerks who assisted them were losing their jobs. Once trading got started, though, it still looked like complete mayhem, like a bunch of heavyset mimes pretending to drown: waving their arms frantically and puffing out their cheeks. Or sometimes it looked like gangs challenging each other to cross to opposing sides of the street.