Ohio Chamber History: The Founding

In the late 1890’s, the United States experienced an economic depression. The Panic of 1893 began with two of the biggest employers in the country collapsing. This created a domino affect that caused hundreds of bank and business failures that were connected and dependent on those businesses. Then the stock market plunged, and European investors pulled funds from the United States. At the same time, there was an ongoing agricultural depression in the West and South. Unemployment rates dropped, and homelessness increased. In Ohio, unemployment rates for industrial workers reached up to 50 percent.

In response to this crisis, several business leaders from all over Ohio came together to form an organization to address their concerns over the looming business depression. On November 15, 1893, they created the Ohio State Board of Commerce and selected Mr. C.C. Burnett as their first president.

The summary of the resolution said this:

“We believe that such an organization is of great advantage to the business interests of Ohio. 1. By concentrating the influence of the various boards of trade. 2. By securing a consensus of opinion and concert of action upon matters affecting the prosperity and development of the state as a whole. 3. By securing the enactment of just and equitable laws and providing a protection against unwise and hasty legislation or anything else tending to weaken the competitive ability of the state. 4. By increasing the power and usefulness of the various local boards. 5. By fostering the establishment of one strong commercial body in each important trade center.”

From the start, these men were strongly motivated and ready to make a stand for legislation that would improve the situation for businesses and Ohio’s economy.

At the 12th Annual Meeting of the Ohio State Board of Commerce, the president, Ebenezer H. Thresher, said this about the organization:

“I do not know of another organization anywhere that has been able from the start to enlist so many representative citizens, so many men of ability, men who do things and bring them to pass, as has this Ohio State Board of Commerce. It has from the start demanded the best thought and expression in all its lines of action, and we are beginning to realize that our organization has gone over the breakers unharmed, that it has gone through fire unscathed, and has shown that it can be trusted to do what it starts out to do. The men who are here represent the leaders of thought and progress in this great State of Ohio, and we may justly expect them to carry on this work to still greater success in the future than we have achieved in the past.”

Office photo from the 1890’s

This statement not only captured the heart and soul of the organization in its early stages but set a high bar for the future of the organization.

Founding members that have continued to be members include:

  1. PNC (National City, Ohio National Bank) – Merged
  2. Macy’s (May Department Stores)
  3. Owens-Illinois (Libby Glass)
  4. BP America (Standard Oil)
  5. Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber
  6. Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce
  7. Columbus Chamber
  8. FirstEnergy Corp (Cleveland Electric)
  9. Greater Cleveland Partnership (Greater Cleveland Growth Association)
  10. Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce
  11. Root (A.I. Root)
  12. Cliffs Natural Resources (Cleveland Cliffs)
  13. Huntington Bancshares Inc. (Huntington National Bank)
  14. Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce
  15. The Chamber of Greater Springfield