History of the Chamber of Commerce
Origin of the chamber concept
The concept of various businesses joining together in a mutual effort to increase commerce had its beginnings in Europe hundreds of years ago. Primarily as a defensive tactic, traders banded together for protection against common enemies and to establish policies to govern trade. This was eventually extended as a means of exerting influence on governments and legislation.
The first organization of businesses was evidently in Marseilles, France, where the use of the term “chamber of commerce” was first documented. This fledgling group was established by the city council in 1599--over four centuries ago. The idea caught on and spread to Germany and eventually throughout Europe.
The concept comes to America
The modern Chamber of Commerce is more of an American development. The New York State Chamber is the oldest Chamber of Commerce in America, formed in 1768 and chartered by King George III in 1770. That makes it older than the Declaration of Independence; chambers of commerce are not a new development.
The first local chamber was founded in Charleston, South Carolina in 1773. This was followed by one in New Haven, Connecticut and then another in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1800. The trend rapidly spread across the country. By 1870 there were forty local chambers of commerce in the United States. Today there are over 5,000 chambers of commerce.
The purpose of the Chamber of Commerce has evolved from simply the protection and promotion of commerce to many of the things presented on this website. The primary function of protecting commerce remains the same, but it is interesting to follow the changes and adaptations of chamber functions through the years as chambers have adjusted to the changing needs of society. Today the role of a chamber of commerce has expanded to address socioeconomic concerns and social needs, going far beyond its original intent several centuries ago.
The prosperity of each individual business depends on the development of the community. The success of individual businesses increases the prosperity of the community and the resulting prosperity bounces back to benefit of local business owners. It’s a win-win situation, as we have pointed out in other sections on this site.
President William Howard Taft sent a letter to Congress in 1911 addressing the need for a “central organization “in order to “keep purely American interests in a closer touch with different phases of commercial affairs.” A few months later the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was born.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce began in 1912 and today claims a direct membership of 300,000 businesses and 3 million entities in state and local chambers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is not the same as local and state chambers, which focus on local and state issues. The U.S. Chamber is concerned with national issues and dealings with the federal government.
The chamber concept functions on a global scale as well. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) is the largest business organization in the world. Founded in 1919, it now has hundreds of thousands of companies under its umbrella in over 130 countries. With headquarters in Paris, it is keeps organizations like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization in touch with international business issues.
The primary purpose of the ICC is to promote trade and investment, an open market for goods and services, and to encourage the free flow of capital.
Chambers require free enterprise and private initiative
America as a nation stands for freedom and the chamber concept can only be found where private initiative and free enterprise exist. The Chamber of Commerce serves a function internationally, nationally and locally, with a proven record of success for the benefit of business and commerce on both the large and small scale.
Historically and to this day the Chamber of Commerce remains the most trusted source of information on local businesses and services and the most dependable ally in commerce. There is no better partner for success than your local Chamber of Commerce.