The History of Chambers of Commerce

            As long as commerce has existed, traders have banded together.  The purpose of those first associations was to seek common protection against enemies and marauding bands of robbers.  Later they established codes to govern the conduct of trade, and still later, they attempted to exert influence on legislation.  These early associations of traders have little in common with the modern Chamber of Commerce.

The history of Chambers of Commerce, as an institution representing the interests of business, dates back to the end of the 16th century.  In 1599 the Board of Marseilles, France appointed a commission of four merchants and granted it the status of an advisory body on trade matters.  The commission was “in charge of increasing the town’s prosperity.”  Some time later the commission was named a Chamber of Commerce.

King Henry IV issued a decree whereby he legitimized the institution, which in the course of time became totally independent.  He also asked the chambers for “recommendations to revive the economy of the kingdom.” 

In the early 18th century Chambers of Commerce, as advisory institutions, were established in other French cities.  Clearly establishing their purpose, King Louis XIV asked the chambers for proposals to “increase trade in France and outside the Kingdom.”

In Germany, the first chamber was established in 1665 in Hamburg.  It was an institution similar to a Chamber of Commerce and called a Kommerzdeputation.  In 1866 it was named a Chamber of Commerce.

The first Canadian Chamber of Commerce was formed in the year 1750 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  A group of merchants joined together to form the "Association for the Benefit of Trade." 

            The first Chamber of Commerce in the United States was organized in New York in 1786.  From 1890 the growth of the chambers in the United States was rapid.  Today, there are over 5,000 such organizations in the country. 

The Galena Chamber of Commerce, organized at a meeting of merchants on February 2, 1838, was the first Chamber of Commerce in Illinois.  Though it has not been in continuous existence, a business organization in one form or another has been in Galena since that time.  According to the 1878 History of Jo Daviess County, “... the Chamber of Commerce exercised a powerful and beneficial influence on the business interests of Galena.”

Chambers of Commerce today have only a faint resemblance of the old “board of trade” and “booster clubs” of even a half-century ago.  Changes are more than one of refinement - the basic philosophy of Chamber operation has changed. 

In recent years, Chambers of Commerce have become more involved in economic development, urban renewal, and planning, with some of the larger Chambers adding specialist to their staff.


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