A Comprehensive History of Forex Trading - From Past to Present

The foreign exchange market (forex) is the largest and most liquid financial market in the world, with an average daily trading volume of $5.1 trillion as of April 2016 according to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). But how did this market come to be? What events and factors shaped its development over time? In this article, we will explore the history of forex trading, tracing its roots back to ancient civilizations and the development of money, all the way to modern-day computerized trading platforms.

The Origins of Forex Trading

The history of forex trading dates back thousands of years to ancient civilizations. Currency trading, or the exchange of one form of money for another, was first documented in the ancient Near East in the third millennium BC. Coins were introduced in the Greek city-state of Lydia during the 7th century BC, which allowed for easier and more reliable exchange, and gave rise to the concept of exchange rates. The first recorded foreign exchange deal is credited to the Babylonians, who exchanged goods for silver in the 4th century BC.

During the Middle Ages, Italian merchants developed a system of exchanging currency in the major European trading centers. This was known as the "Tavola di Cambio," or the "Table of Exchange," and was the precursor to modern-day forex trading. By the 15th century, the Medici family in Florence established a bank that became the hub of forex trading in Europe. The Medici bank was the first to create an international network of correspondents, enabling the fast and reliable transfer of funds across borders.

The Gold Standard

In the 19th century, countries began to adopt the gold standard, which tied the value of their currencies to gold. The gold standard was created to prevent inflation and ensure currency stability, but it also provided a common standard for foreign exchange rates. Under the gold standard, exchange rates were fixed and currencies could be exchanged for gold at a fixed rate.

The gold standard ended with the outbreak of World War I, as countries suspended convertibility to gold in order to finance their war efforts. After the war, there was a push to restore the gold standard, which was achieved by the mid-1920s. However, the Great Depression led to the collapse of the gold standard in 1931, as countries once again suspended convertibility to gold.

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The Bretton Woods System

In 1944, a new system of exchange rates was established at the Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire. The Bretton Woods system was created to provide stability to the global economy after World War II, and it tied the value of most currencies to the US dollar. The US dollar was also tied to gold at a fixed rate of $35 per ounce.

Under the Bretton Woods system, central banks had the responsibility of maintaining the value of their currencies within a narrow range against the US dollar. In order to do this, they had to buy or sell their own currency in the market in exchange for US dollars. This created a demand for and supply of currencies, and allowed for exchange rates to be fixed.

The Bretton Woods system ended in 1971, when the US suspended convertibility of the dollar to gold. This led to the emergence of floating exchange rates, where the value of currencies was determined by supply and demand in the market.

Electronic Trading

The advent of computers and the internet revolutionized forex trading in the late 20th century. Before the 1990s, forex trading was primarily conducted over the phone and through banks. However, the development of electronic trading platforms allowed for faster and more efficient trading.

In the early 1990s, the first electronic trading platforms were developed, and online forex trading became available to retail traders. The first online trading platforms were relatively basic, but they provided traders with real-time quotes and the ability to place orders.

Today, electronic trading platforms have revolutionized forex trading, making it accessible to millions of traders around the world. Platforms like MetaTrader 4 and 5, cTrader, and NinjaTrader offer advanced charting capabilities, algorithmic trading, and social trading features.

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Key Events in Forex Trading History

Several key events have had a significant impact on the history of forex trading. Here are some of the most notable:

Black Wednesday (1992)

On September 16, 1992, known as Black Wednesday, George Soros made a huge profit by betting against the British pound. Soros believed that the pound was overvalued and that Britain’s interest rates would need to increase in order to maintain its value. He borrowed billions of pounds, converted them to German marks, and then repaid the loans when the pound lost value. This led to massive losses for the Bank of England and a devaluation of the pound.

The Asian Financial Crisis (1997-1998)

The Asian Financial Crisis began in July 1997, when the Thai baht was devalued after the government abandoned its peg to the US dollar. This triggered a wave of currency devaluations throughout the region, leading to a financial crisis that affected several Asian economies. The crisis had a significant impact on forex trading, and highlighted the vulnerability of emerging markets to currency depreciations.

The Global Financial Crisis (2007-2008)

The Global Financial Crisis began in 2007, when the US subprime mortgage market collapsed. This led to a global recession, and had a significant impact on forex trading. The crisis led to massive fluctuations in exchange rates, and many countries implemented measures to stabilize their currencies.


The history of forex trading is a long and fascinating one, reflecting the evolution of money and the global economy. Beginning with ancient civilizations and the development of currency exchange, through the gold standard, the Bretton Woods system, and the emergence of electronic trading, forex trading has undergone significant transformation throughout history. Today, it is a complex and dynamic market that is open 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, and has the potential for high rewards and high risks. Understanding its history is essential for traders looking to succeed in the forex market.