Ira Y. Munn

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Ira Y. Munn

The late Ira. Y. Munn was Chicago businessman, insurance executive, and warehouseman who was president of the Chicago Board of Trade in 1860 and 1861 and the Chicago Chamber of Commerce in 1868.[1] He was the leader of an early corner of the wheat market in the spring of 1872.[2]

He was a party to a famous U.S. Supreme Court case, Munn v. Illinois, which held that businesses that affected the public interest were subject to public regulation.[3]


Munn was originally from New Jersey and came to Chicago before the Civil War. He built an elevator in 1856 as a partner in Munn, Gill & Company. Munn built additional elevators in 1864, all of which survived the Chicago Fire of 1871.

He was the designer of improvements in grain elevator design, including the idea of emptying grain into upside-down pyramid-shaped pits in the ground lined with concrete or wood. He also devised a grain grading system.[4]

Munn was a supporter of the Civil War regiment raised by the Chicago Board of Trade members.

He was involved in the insurance business and newspaperman. He was a vice president of the Equitable Life Insurance Company of Chicago, a vice president of the Northwestern Mutual Life Company of Chicago and one of the founder of the Chicago Republican, a daily newspaper.

In 1870, the new Illinois Constitution established to incorporate post-Civil War laws put railroads and elevators under the control of a Railroad and Warehouse Commission. The powers of the commission included the right to regulate rail and storage rates and to inspect public grain elevators. Munn, who was a Chicago elevator operator, challenged the legality of the commission in Munn v. Illinois. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1877 affirmed the commission's power as being in “the public interest.”[5][6]

In the aftermath of the 1871 wheat market corner attempt, Munn sold his elevators he owned to George Armour for $10. Munn was later declared bankrupt and had over 150 creditors.[7] Munn was represented by John Jewett, a prominent Chicago lawyer who later co-founded the Chicago Bar Association and served as its first president. Jewett also served as the dean of the John Marshall Law School, where he lectured on constitutional law.[8]

During an investigation into missing grain from his elevators, it was discovered that a floor had been established near the top of the elevator, which made it appear more grain was present that was really there.

As a result of the controversy over the corner, fraud and bankruptcy, Munn and his partner George L. Scott were expelled from the membership of the CBOT.[9][10] Munn fled the city, never to return.



  1. Grain of Truth: Taking stock of the relics of Chicago’s era as the world’s “Stacker of Wheat”. Newcity.
  2. Endless Appetites: How the Commodities Casino Creates Hunger and Unrest. Google Books.
  3. The Waite Court, 1874-1888. The Supreme Court Historical Society.
  4. Grain Elevator. History on the Fox.
  5. Commodities Markets. Encyclopedia of Chicago.
  6. Free Ira Munn. Ballooff Consulting Service.
  7. The Disgrace of Ira Munn. NIU.EDU.
  8. Safe Harbor: Chicago's Waterfront and the Political Economy of the Built. Google Books.
  9. A History of Chicago, Volume III: The Rise of a Modern City, 1871-1893. Google Books.
  10. Safe Harbor: Chicago's Waterfront and the Political Economy of the Built. Google Books.