Centennial 1914 – 2014
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1987: Presidential Visit

At the Montreal convention in 1987, the featured guest was former President Gerald Ford (1974-77), shown here with 1986-87 ACCE Board Chair William B. Little, CCE, of the Baton Rouge, La., Chamber.

1955: Pre-Presidential Visit

In 1955 Ronald Reagan, who was host of the popular TV show General Electric Theater from 1954-62, appeared at the ACCE Convention in Milwaukee. Standing to Reagan’s left are Ray Weisbrod, EVP of the Milwaukee chamber, and an unidentified man. Seated is 1955-56 ACCE Chair William S. Johnson of Jacksonville, Fla. Reagan’s contract with GE required him to tour GE plants 16 weeks out of the year, according to Wikipedia, often demanding of him up to 14 speeches a day, which he wrote himself.

1942: Adjusting the Community’s Clock

WWII brought gasoline rationing, a rapid increase in war production employment, and strains on infrastructure in communities of all sizes. At the 1942 convention, George F. Hines of the Providence, R.I. chamber said the result was “a crisis in local transportation in most communities” because of overloaded buses and street cars. Producing more buses or streetcars was virtually out of the question—the greater need was for tanks, airplanes and ships. “Today no community can obtain a new bus or street car in less than nine months and then cannot receive any unless they have a staggered hour plan in effect,” Hines said. “Great Britain today permits only war workers to ride at peak hours in certain areas.” To keep people moving from home to work and to business districts and back—and to save gasoline and make public transportation more efficient, chambers across the country coordinated staggered hours for schools, offices, retail stores and war production factories big and small. In Bridgeport, Conn., school children’s tickets for downtown buses expired at 4 p.m. In Jackson, Miss.,  children within a two-mile radius of their school walked to and from classes. Many towns and cities had a “transportation czar,” according to an informal poll of attendees at Hines’ session.

1942: War Work

The October convention in Detroit in 1942, themed “The War Work of Chambers of Commerce,” opened somewhat somberly, but not because the first 10 months of WWII were going badly. “Some of us are wondering about the future of chambers of commerce and whether or not we too may be considered among the expendables,” said NACOS President Russell S. Rhodes of the Tulsa chamber in his opening remarks. “Scarcely a day passes but what we are called upon to assist one or more governmental agencies…they can depend on us for information and guidance and for carrying through on a multitude of functions. “ He said many chambers had “released practically their entire executive staff to serve in the armed forces or in some governmental bureau, and have handicapped themselves in the doing.” He said he regretted learning of “a number of smaller chambers whose boards of directors have decided they should drastically reduce their operations and attempt to get by with merely an office secretary…”

Rhodes was followed by Arch N. Booth of the Wichita chamber, who gave the keynote address on how chambers were helping to win the war. Booth complained about “bureaucrats who came to town to set up new machinery for doing simple war jobs. In most cases there was no need of new machinery….Now, ten months of war and several disgraceful flops have demonstrated … the fact that the war jobs of the home front can be done best by inventive, energetic, public spirited citizens who live on Main Street.” He then listed “a few things” chambers had done:

"1.    Fought waste and promoted conservation

  2.   Sold the idea that we must accept discomfort or accept defeat

  3.   Helped interpret and promote the War Manpower Commission’s plan for the directed use
            and distribution of manpower

  4.   Cooperated with labor-management committees to help increase war output

  5.   Operated campaigns to counteract the scare rumors and the perpetual storms of emotion
            which undermine civilian morale

  6.   Said to the people of their communities—don’t worry, don’t buy foolishly and don’t
            hoard—keep your shirt on and keep working

  7.   Worked for the continued existence of small businesses which were squarely hit by the
            system of contract allocations.”

Booth, who would join the U.S. Chamber staff in 1943 and later serve as EVP, COO, and finally president in 1974, already was looking ahead to a post-war America where important responsibilities would fall to chamber executives:

“1. We must find a way to get millions of men back into peace time occupations

 2. We must prevent the kind of inflation that ruined Germany

 3. There must be a sufficient amount of investment to keep up the capitalist system

 4. The facilities built during the war must be used or liquidated

 5. The government control of our economic life must be demobilized when peace is here.”

1941: How to Build Your Budget

In a session for chambers in cities of less than 25,000 entitled “How to Raise Bigger and Better Budgets,” Don Weeks of Traverse City, Mich., spoke of a chamber in a “small city,” apparently his own, that consistently raised the equivalent of “$2 per capita,” in annual dues, which is more than $33 per capita in 2014 dollars. How?

The chamber, Weeks said, “makes public at the time of its annual meeting the most thorough report of its finances that can be put down on paper…everyone in the town knows that the chamber of commerce has nothing up its sleeve…[the chamber] is the property of the smallest subscriber just as much as of its largest and in fact is the property of the whole community and is at work for the whole community… this chamber of commerce constantly shows its members what it is doing, [not] what it has done…the organization makes its accomplishments so good that that people want to have a part in producing them.”

Following Weeks’ prepared remarks, the transcript of the meeting notes that “Don was given a third-degree quiz. The answers shocked the smug complacency of most secretaries present upon learning that Traverse City, with a population of 14,000, had a budget of $30,000, [about $500,000 in 2014 dollars] eight people on the payroll and an overhead of $12,000 [about $200,000 in 2014 dollars]. Yet they had not found any secret process, but simply sold a program to their membership.”

1927: Aviation Fever

Loening AmphibianEnlarge

In the 1920s, flying captured the world’s imagination, and NACOS newsletters of the time reveal the general excitement about fast-developing possibilities of commercial flight. One newsletter in 1926 mentioned that a lot of secretaries had “taken up flying,” meaning that many of them were getting on airplanes for business travel, not flying lessons.

The front page of the May 1927 issue of NACOS News announced that NACOS President Walter O. Lochner of the Trenton, N.J. Chamber, would embark on an eight-week “air tour” of 131 cities in the U.S. and Canada aboard a Loening Amphibian flown by a major from the U.S. Army Air Service. The Loening was an amphibious bi-plane with two open cockpit seats, maximum speed of 122 mph, range 625 miles and service ceiling 14,000 feet. May 20 was the tentative departure date for the “NACOS Good Will Flight of the States,” sponsored by NACOS to stress the importance of aviation development in the U.S.

The "Spirit of St. Louis"Enlarge

May 20, 1927 also was the date Charles Lindbergh took off from Long Island and headed across the Atlantic for Paris, where he landed 33-1/2 hours later. His flight in The Spirit of St. Louis was financed by Harold Bixby, a banker who was president of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce and who provided the name for Lindbergh’s single-engine plane. Bixby’s $15,000 investment bought incalculable fame and marketing value for his city.

In 1928 St. Louis passed a $2 million bond issue that would make their airport “second to none” in the United States. In July of the same year, the chamber took 125 St. Louis citizens to Paris “with a view to popularizing their home city as an air center,” according to The Magicians of Main Street, Chris Mead’s forthcoming history of chambers.

Walter O. Lochner
in 1942

Oddly, there are no mentions of Lindbergh’s triumph in NACOS News, but the July 1927 newsletter featured a letter from Lochner, “written in airplane, en route between Muskogee, Okla., and Little Rock, Ark., 10:30 A. M., Wednesday, June 29, 1927…We are now a mile above ground at this moment approaching the Arkansas River near Fort Smith, en route with an airplane load of good will to be scattered amongst the chambers of commerce of the United States.”

Lochner’s was not the only chamber-related air tour. In June, the Detroit Chamber arranged a “National Air Tour” of 30 planes that took off from Dearborn to visit Cleveland, Buffalo, Schenectady, Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, Dayton, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, Memphis, Dallas, Tulsa, Moline, Grand Rapids, Hammond and Lansing.


1921: What a Chamber is For

 During the opening speech of the 1921 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, NACOS President R. B. Beach from the Chicago Association of Commerce posed the question at the heart of our profession: what is a chamber for? Has there been a more complete and satisfactory response in the 93 years since? You decide:

“If someone should ask you what is a Chamber of Commerce supposed to do, what would you reply? Possibly you have the reply ready in your mind and are prepared to floor the questioner by the promptness of your response. But when I looked around for a ready-made answer to the question, I for one could not find it. I do not believe that I have ever seen a specific and satisfactory statement of just what a Chamber of Commerce is for! Not finding the answer ready-made, I have endeavored to supply my own answer. Here it is:

1.      To get business men pulling together.

2.      To raise standards of doing business.

3.      To develop business of community.

4.      To encourage physical improvement of city.

5.      To obtain good government at reasonable cost.

6.      To inspire good citizenship.

7.      To improve 'civic' conditions, making your city 'a good place to live in and work in.'

8.      To bring about relations between employee and employer that are fair, satisfactory, and

      conducive to efficient production.

9.      To render service of value to business men.

10.    To voice the views of business.”

 —R. B. Beach, Business Manager, Chicago Association of Commerce

1920: How to Fail

Munson Havens, secretary of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, was lauded by fellow members as an ironic and amusing instructor in the art of chamber management for his 1920 article, How to Fail as a Secretary, which contained advice such as:

”Every little while one of these hard-headed manufacturers will surprise you by conceding an eight-hour day or a share of the profits to his employees. This is simply an evidence that another good man has gone wrong and you can join all the other manufacturers in town in condemning his treachery to his own class.”

“And finally, there is one infallible test of success or failure. If we hold our jobs we have succeeded. If we lose them we have failed. Are not the successful secretaries those who have taken expediency as their watchword, have avoided the pitfalls of a decisive position, have never regarded their organization as instruments of human progress, but rather as the medium through which they maintain their livelihood?”

1890s: Reforming Chambers

The 17th Annual NACOS Convention was held in Toledo Oct. 18-21, 1931 at the
Commodore Perry Hotel.

NACOS’ first president, S. Cristy Mead, believed that his generation—starting with him, it appears—had revolutionized chambers by imbuing them with the goal of bettering the community. When Mead got started in 1897, he reminisced 32 years later, “Chambers in that day were mostly organizations that indulged in academic discussions and passed resolutions with no teeth in them.”

Whether we date the reform from Ryerson Ritchie’s arrival in Cleveland in 1893 or S. Cristy Mead’s coming aboard the new Merchants’ Association of New York in 1897, something significant had come to chambers with the Progressive ethos:  a sort of democratized, professional, energetic version of community spirit. Such spirit had existed before, but it
was not as well organized or as broadly based.  Something new really had come to the
chamber movement.

In the Twenties, as Mead complained, things changed.  Chambers got into all kinds of activities.  Many of them supported the community and catered to its

First ConventionEnlargeneeds, but others were more acquisitive in spirit, seeking to grab business opportunities, tourists, or factories. What was new was not that chambers had a commercial bent, but that they behaved with fewer restraints, not unlike the society around them. — excerpted from Magicians of Main Street, a soon-to-be-published book by Chris Mead, ACCE’s senior V.P., who is no relation to S. Cristy Mead.

S. Cristy Mead of New York City, NACOS’ first president, in his opening remarks at the first NACOS convention, said that no matter its size, the “modern” chamber of commerce “is the expression in commercial community affairs of the operation of the law of
co-operation and co-ordination of effort on the part of individual units for greater efficiency in the accomplishment of results
beneficial to the community.”

Mead reported that the association had 203 members from 156 communities in 39 states and three Canadian provinces. He provided this population breakdown of towns and cities served by NACOS members:

•  46% served in towns of less than 50,000

•  15% served in towns of 50,000 to 100,000

•  15% served populations of 100,000 to 250,000

•  14% served populations of 250,000 to 1 million

•  10% served populations over 1 million

Among the discussion topics during breakout sessions at the first convention:

“How far is it advisable to go in organizing departments and putting specialists in charge

of them?”

“Should a chamber of commerce ever endorse political or even non-partisan candidates for

public office?”

Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives

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