History 1839-1911

The history of 150 years of service to business and industry
1: 1839-1911

The year was 1839. Cincinnati had grown to a population of 45,000 and was among the country's fastest growing cities.

1839 Chamber building

The Chamber of Commerce Building on the southwest corner at Fourth and Vine was built in 1889 and destroyed by a fire in 1911.

River commerce had fueled the city's early growth, and business was playing an increasingly important role in life in this Queen City on the Ohio River. The F.H. Lawson Co., William S. Merrell Co., Procter & Gamble Co. and Cincinnati Gas, Light and Coke Co. were already on the Cincinnati scene, and new companies seemed to spring up daily. Managing and encouraging growth was as big a business concern in the early 19th century as it is a century and a half later.

And so it was that on October 15, 1839, 76 firms and individuals placed an advertisement in the Cincinnati Daily Gazette urging local businessmen to attend a meeting at the Young Men's Mercantile Library Association headquarters in the old Cincinnati College Building at Fourth and Walnut Streets. That meeting led to the founding of "a Chamber of Commerce and Board of Trade for the purpose of uniform regulations and unison of action in the promotion of its mercantile interests."

"Prodigious wonders have been worked since that first gathering," journalist Charles Ludwig wrote in the Cincinnatian 88 years later, describing the Chamber's history in words that still apply today. "They launched trade fairs, festivals, expositions, and exhibitions to attract people to Cincinnati…conducted good will excursions to extend Cincinnati's market area…(and) made Cincinnati a famous convention city."

"They helped every forward cause in the history of the city," Ludwig wrote. "They led in the movement for the City Beautiful, for city planning and zoning…and all things that make for a finer, richer, happier, more abundant life."

Arbitrating disputes within the business community was one of the first major activities of the young Chamber of Commerce. With no generally accepted legal or ethical standards of business practice in place, conflicts between businessmen were frequent. The Chamber's role as arbiter grew, often eliminating costly and time-consuming litigation. It's role also enhanced and strengthened its image, adding to its stature in the business community, for threat of expulsion from the Chamber often was stronger than existing legal sanctions.

Promoting Cincinnati's "mercantile interests" became increasingly complex. In 1854 a Chamber committee lobbied Congress to improve traffic on the Ohio River, and in 1861 another petitioned legislators to continue railroad access to Cincinnati during the Civil War. The Chamber protested when the bulk of Civil War munitions contracts were awarded to eastern companies, insisting that western producers be given their fair share. And in 1865 the Chamber aggressively championed a post-war reconstruction program that included a railroad system to tie Cincinnati to its markets in the South.

The Cincinnati Chamber also exerted its influence nationally by launching the movement for the formation of a national Chamber of Commerce. A forerunner of today's U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that organization held its first meeting in Cincinnati in 1869.

In the same year the Cincinnati Chamber began compiling and publishing its now-famous Daily Weather Bulletin, which eventually led to the creation of the U.S. Weather Bureau.

The Chamber was actively involved in Cincinnati's Centennial of 1888 and the industry and trade expositions held in conjunction with that celebration.

Next: Chamber History 1912-1989 >

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