Chambers of Commerce

views updated May 23 2018

Chambers of Commerce

A chamber of commerce is a voluntary association whose membership is comprised of companies, civic leaders, and individual business people. Its members seek to promote the interests of business, typically in a broad-based way. Chambers of commerce exist on municipal, state, regional, national, and even international levels. Today, chambers of commercesometimes called boards of trade or commercial associationscan be found in most of the world's industrialized countries.

In the United States, the first chamber of commerce was created in 1768 in New York City. Its stated objectives encompassed "encouraging commerce, supporting industry, adjusting disputes relative to trade and navigation, and producing such laws and regulations as may be found necessary for the benefit of trade in general." Soon other chambers of commerce formed in other major cities. Arising in quick succession during the 19th century, chambers of commerce spread throughout the land and today number in the thousands.

At the local level, chambers of commerce strive to develop and publicize business opportunities in their communities, as well as work for the betterment of local schools and other community institutions. Local chambers of commerce offer a range of programs and services to their members, including information and advice on timely business matters, opportunities for networking, and a variety of publications. Local chambers of commerce also provide their members with numerous forumstask forces, committees, special events, and so onin which to express their specific views and concerns, whether pertaining to the challenges facing small businesses or to the issues surrounding international commerce. Depending on their geographic settings, local chambers of commerce can be small or large in terms of their membership and scope of activities.

At the national level, chambers of commerce function as a unified voice for their affiliates. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, counts individual companies, affiliate chambers of commerce, and trade and professional associations among its members. Through them, it represents more than three million business organizations and individuals. Members include business of all sizes, from the Fortune 500 companies to home-based, one-person operations. In fact, 96 percent of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's membership is made up of companies with fewer than 100 employees.

Founded as a national federation in 1912 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the national chamber was instrumental in persuading the federal government to institute a national budget and in gaining passage of the Federal Reserve Act. Its chief aims are to: stop perceived over-regulation; push down business taxes; improve labor relations; increase production, develop new markets; provide more jobs; raise educational levels; build better cities; and keep organized business strong and increasingly effective.

To carry out its mission, the national chamber maintains a large staff that engages in a broad spectrum of activities, ranging from informing and counseling its members on key government developments to conducting policy studies and issuing reports, bulletins, booklets, and periodicals. In addition, the national chamber maintains a vigorous stance in making its policies and members' viewpoints known to federal agency personnel, members of Congress, and other public officials. Augmenting the national chamber are four regional offices and 50 foreign-based American chambers of commerce.

At the global level is the International Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1920. This organization constitutes an international federation of business organizations and individuals and as such serves as a powerful voice for business interests worldwide. It holds the highest-ranking status afforded to organizations the United Nations calls on in a consultative capacity. It also operates a prominent court of arbitration to settle international business disputes; utilizes teams of experts to formulate solutions to problems in such areas as communications, law, and financial relations; and issues a quarterly publication entitled World Trade. Headquartered in Paris, the International Chamber of Commerce functions as a vital mechanism for articulating global business concerns to world opinion leaders and the public at large.

Junior chambers of commerce, known as the Jaycees, also originated in the 1920s. These associations, evolving from the larger chamber of commerce movement, are composed of young business people in their twenties and thirties. Prevalent throughout the United States and in many other countries as well, junior chambers of commerce principally devote their energies to projects of community improvement.

see also Business Associations; U.S. Chamber of Commerce


Cashill, Jack. "When Your Chamber Becomes Your Competitor." Ingram's. January 2000.

Pierce, Jan, ed. World Chamber of Commerce Directory, 2000. International Chamber of Commerce, 2000.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Business Competitiveness Platform: Recommendations to the Parties." July 2004.

                                 Hillstrom, Northern Lights

                                  updated by Magee, ECDI

Chambers of Commerce

views updated May 08 2018


CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE. As early as the 1780s, businessmen realized they needed a commercial and trade organization to represent their interests in the wider community. Voluntary associations of local business leaders, usually culled from the service professions, chambers of commerce consider a wide variety of business, cultural, and community challenges. In addition to leadership development and fraternal aspects, chambers of commerce often focus on issues that directly involve local business leaders, such as zoning ordinances, property taxes, commercial development, and public relations efforts at promoting the business interests of the local area.

Chambers of commerce in the United States are modeled after similar organizations in England. Many chambers in older American cities evolved from two preceding associations: the Board of Trade and the Civic Association. While most chambers tackle a broad range of interests, many still cling to their roots and heavily promote trade and civic interests. Chambers of commerce also have an emphasis on charity work and raise money for the local community.

In 1912, a group of business leaders from local and regional chambers and trade associations founded the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. These leaders realized that they needed an organization in Washington, D.C., that would represent their interests regarding public policy issues. In 1926, they built a headquarters in the nation's capital in a building designed by the famous architect Cass Gilbert. By 1929, the chamber had more than 16,000 affiliated business organizations. The group worked closely with the government during World War I, organizing more than 400 War Service Committees to help coordinate business involvement in the war effort. The group remained supportive of the government until the New Deal. Like other business interests, they challenged President Franklin D. Roosevelt's policies, particularly over social security and public welfare. However, during World War II, the chamber once again rallied to aid the nation's efforts. After the war, the chamber once again fought expansion of the federal government and became a powerful lobbying force.

In 2002 there were 3 million businesses represented by the chamber, consisting of 3,000 state and local chambers, more than 800 business associations, and ninety-two American chambers of commerce overseas. Keeping with its tradition of representing local business leaders, 96 percent of its members were small businesses with 100 or fewer employees.


Collins, Robert M. The Business Response to Keynes, 1929–1964. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

Werking, Richard Hume. "Bureaucrats, Businessmen, and Foreign Trade: The Origins of the United States Chamber of Commerce," Business History Review 52 (1978): 321341.


See alsoFree Trade ; Trade, Domestic ; Trade, Foreign .

chamber of commerce

views updated May 18 2018

cham·ber of com·merce (abbr.: C. of C.) • n. a local association to promote and protect the interests of the business community in a particular place.