The beginning of the Trade association’s movement can be traced back almost 6,000 years to the City of Mari in Mesopotamia. But those early associations of traders had little in common with Chambers of Commerce as we know them today.
Not until 1881 was a Chamber established in London.
The first known use of the term "Chamber of Commerce" occurred in Marseilles, France, where the evolution of the modern Chamber began in 1599. The business people worked to establish an organization with the backing of the city council. The oldest Chambers in the British Isles are those of Glasgow (1783), Edinburgh (1785), and Manchester (1794).
It was the imperial ambitions of Kaiser William I of Germany that gave impetus to the Chamber of Commerce movement in that country. Recognizing the usefulness of such organizations in promoting trade and training young men for commercial encouraged their principal cities.
However, the European Chamber of Commerce has little in common with the modern American organization. Although, they are associations of business people, they frequently operate as quasipublic agencies, vested with certain administrative and judicial powers with respect to trade. These powers often include establishment of codes governing commercial practice, arbitration of rules of navigation, and supervision over other commercial bodies. Under some highly centralized governments, the Chambers have been used as agencies for directing and controlling economic activity in behalf of the central planning authority. This was true in Nazi Germany where regional and local Chambers virtually exercised powers of life or death over individual concerns.
Early American Chambers, like their European prototypes were associations of tradesmen organized for the protection and promotion of commerce. The establishment of the New York State Chamber, for example, was a result of the obnoxious Stamp Tax Act, passed by Parliament in 1765. Forced to organize in selfdefense to fight the Act, New York tradesmen quickly perceived the advantages of such association.
Those early Chambers undertook to promote the sale of goods. They organized markets, made and enforced rules of trade, protected goods in transit, and even operated their own trading floors. But their activities were limited to those directly connected with commerce.
But the emergence of the Chamber as a true community organization came much later as businessmen began to realize that their own prosperity depended upon the development of a prosperous, healthy, and happy community. From the late 1800's on, the growth of the Chamber movement in the United States was rapid.
In the early 1900's most local Chambers were primarily interested in attracting new industries to their community. Civic and commercial development took second place. While industrial development was still often a major emphasis, gradually, Chambers came to recognize that industrial growth was dependent on civic and commercial development as well. In fact, during the first quarter of this century so much emphasis was being placed on civic problems that many Chambers began to assume the character of civic associations. It soon became evident that Chambers, in order to be true to their purpose, must remain primarily business organizations, and express the point of view of business. The importance of balance in the Chamber of Commerce program began to be recognized.
As a result of a suggestion by President William Howard Taft that some system of national cooperation between business and government be established, the Chamber of Commerce of the United States was created on April 22, 1912.
It was a new step in commercial organization--a representative federation with autonomous Chambers of Commerce and trade associations from every part of the country and from every type of industry as its controlling and directing force.
Another major change took place with the advent of the New Deal in 1933. Governmental affairs on federal, state and local levels became major items in the Chamber of Commerce program. The Chamber became the interpreter of government to business, and, conversely, of business to government. In this field of activity, the Chamber of Commerce is assuming growing responsibilities and achieving increasing usefulness.
Today, there are perhaps 4,000 such organizations in the country. The Chamber of Commerce of today has little in common with the old "board of trade" or "booster club" of fifty years ago. The change has been one of refinement; the philosophy has changed.
Just as Chambers through the centuries have changed and adapted to meet the needs of the time, so will the Chamber of today be constantly alert to the changes taking place in our society and adapting to meet those needs.