Chambers of Commerce are an essential part of daily American life. For the average business owner, it is nearly impossible to imagine a time before Chambers influenced their daily dealings.
Despite this, the vast majority of people do not know how Chambers of Commerce began or the important role they played in the history of the United States.
To understand how local, state, and national chambers affect modern life, one must have a solid understanding of their foundation and the history in this country.
In this post, we will discuss the foundation of the first Chambers of Commerce, their early influence on the United States, and how they have evolved into what we know today.
In their rudimentary form, chambers of commerce have been around since the dawn of history in the cradle of Mesopotamia. Only, in those ancient civilizations, chambers were not called “chambers of commerce” and they did not serve the same function.
In their earliest form, chambers of commerce were simply a collection of traders who banded together to protect themselves from elementary threats such as robbery and abuse by governing bodies. It is hard to say exactly what purpose these pacts served as their goals were not recorded, however, we do know that they were made up of merchants and traders seeking unity.
These informal coalitions persisted over the millennium, but it wasn't until 1599 A.D. in the city of Marseilles, France that the term chamber of commerce was first used, and its modern ideals were established. The Marseilles Chamber was established by the local city council and was intended to exert influence on government powers.
Over 150 years later, the first chamber of commerce came to what would later become the United States. The New York State Chamber, formed in 1768, was the first official state-wide chamber in the colonies.
The first local chamber was formed five years later in 1773 in Charleston, South Carolina.
These early chambers were a response to the hefty taxes imposed on the American colonies by the British crown (such as the Stamp Act) and were an early sign of American's rebellious spirit.
Following the revolution, local chambers formed in New Haven, Connecticut, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1800.
By 1870, there were forty local chambers of commerce in the United States, a drastic increase demonstrating the growing country’s increasing interest in commerce and an economic system that was growing in strength.
Several decades later, the notion of a National Chamber of Commerce took root.
In 1911, William Howard Taft sent a letter to Congress addressing the need for a "central organization in touch with associations and chambers of commerce throughout the country and able to keep purely American interests in a closer touch with different phases of commercial affairs."
Less than a year later on April 22, 1912, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was born when a group of 700 delegates from various commercial and trade organizations unified to create a unified body of business interest.
In 1925, the construction of the Chamber headquarters was completed, and the U.S. business community has utilized headquarters to promote free enterprise and business opportunities ever since.
In the 100 years since its founding, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has grown to become the world's biggest business federation. It now represents over 3 million businesses of every size, in every sector of industry.
The U.S. Chamber’s roots go deeper than a mere business entity. They stem from the foundation of democracy and entrepreneurship that the United States was built on.
In 2021, the U.S. Chamber claims membership of 300,00 businesses and over 3 million independent businesses belong to state or local chambers.
There are over 5,000 local chambers in the United States in communities small, medium, and large.
When they were founded, chambers of commerce started as a means to simply protect and promote commerce. Today, they accomplish so much more. Local chambers still protect commerce rights, but they also address complex socioeconomic issues and social needs. Their focus is more on bettering the community economy at large, rather than just focusing on the benefits of members’ businesses.
Your local chamber of commerce can do more for your business than provide you with the occasional discount. Your membership gives you access to a wide community of business owners in every industry and gives you a voice in your local government.
If you are looking to join your local chamber into a wider network, why not join the best? The Southern Ohio Chamber of Commerce (SOCA) is the premier chamber in the state of Ohio. SOCA offers access to a myriad of unique benefits and packages and gives you access to over 100 chambers of commerce throughout Ohio, representing tens of thousands of businesses.