New Orleans Cotton Exchange in New Orleans

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The New Orleans Cotton Exchange was established in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1871 as a centralized forum for the trade of cotton. It operated in New Orleans until closing in 1964. Occupying several buildings over its history, its final location, the New Orleans Cotton Exchange Building, is now a National Historic Landmark.


The New Orleans Cotton Exchange was conceived and financed by a group of cotton factors at a time when one-third of the entire production of cotton in the United States was sent through New Orleans. The Exchange sought to bring order to what was a highly speculative and often erratic cotton pricing system by providing a centralized trading office where people involved in the cotton business could obtain information about market conditions and prices. The Exchange also established standards for classification of cotton and facilitated payments between buyers and sellers.

The New York Cotton Exchange opened in 1870. Concerned that trading of cotton in New York would be more advantageous to buyers than sellers, and eager to modernize their operations, New Orleans merchants agreed to form their own exchange. Consequently, the New Orleans Cotton Exchange opened for business on February 20, 1871 at the corner of Gravier and Carondelet Streets, in an area already frequented by cotton merchants.

The Exchange was notable for developing advanced techniques for gathering information about various aspects of the cotton market. Led by Col. Henry G. Hester, for many years the secretary of the Exchange, reports were compiled and then transmitted by telegraph, a novel method at the time. Col. Hester also brought the practice of futures trading to the Exchange. These advanced business methods benefited the local cotton market greatly, so much so that it "enabled New Orleans to regain its position as the primary spot market of the world and to become a leading futures market, outranked only by Liverpool and New York."

Later years saw the decline of the Exchange as fluctuating market conditions, government regulations, price supports, the decline of cotton in the South, and various other factors conspired to shrink the Southern cotton market drastically. The Exchange closed in 1964. A handful of attempts were made in later years to re-start a similar exchange, but none were successful., and has been named a National Historic Landmark.

Degas Painting

The renowned French artist Edgar Degas painted the picture of a cotton office seen here in 1873 while visiting his mother's Louisiana relatives.

Although certain sources label the painting as depicting the Cotton Exchange, the setting of the painting is actually the office of a cotton factor in a nearby building known as "Factors' Row."

See also

  • New York Cotton Exchange, the first cotton exchange in the United States
  • Mobile Cotton Exchange, the third cotton exchange in the United States, founded after New Orleans
  • Cotton factor