Founded in 1839, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber celebrated its 175 Anniversary in 2014.
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.
One of the Chamber's major accomplishments was its role in the development of a city plan for Cincinnati. In 1912 it urged the appointment of a planning commission. The eventual result was the City Plan of 1925, which was hailed as the most comprehensive such plan of any city in the United States. It became the forerunner of the 1948 Master Plan, subsequent updates in the early 1960s, and eventually the Year 2000 Plan, under which the city currently operates. Good planning and good follow-through have long been identified as Cincinnati strengths, and the Chamber takes pride in its early role.
In 1915 the Chamber protested vehemently against making Louisville the terminus of the "Dixie Highway" and successfully urged Cincinnati as the logical end point. In the late 1940s the Chamber led the successful effort to enact the Ohio Valley Water Sanitation Compact, a pioneering environmental proposal. A year later a long campaign by the Chamber ended successfully with the passage of an urban redevelopment bill by the Ohio legislature.
As Cincinnati grew more suburban and became an eight-county metropolitan area in the mid-1960s, the Chamber changed its name to the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce to reflect its role as an organization representing businesses throughout Southwestern Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeastern Indiana.
Beginning in 1965 the Chamber led the campaign to build Riverfront Stadium to attract a National Football League franchise and head off the threat of the Cincinnati Reds moving from the city.
Twice named Chamber of the Year by its peers, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber has grown to become one of the largest chambers in the nation. The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber is more committed than ever to doing what those founders envisioned in 1839 - "making great businesses greater."