The Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, 1880-1890s

by EMMA FULLERTON

While Salt Lake City was developing, businessmen had a difficult time getting Eastern investors interested in the state. A group of these men wanted to build a reputation for Utah and help it become an attractive investment. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was interested in an independent economic system. As the settlement began to grow, non-Mormons began to settle in the valley and start their own companies. There was competition between the Mormons and non-Mormon business owners, or “gentiles,” as they were called, which resulted in a boycott against them.

During this time, mining and smelting were becoming popular and attracting other non-Mormon companies to develop in Utah. Groups started to form because of the success. One of these clubs, The Board of Trade, started as early as 1879 with Thomas R. Jones as president and William S. McCornik as treasurer. They worked to change the public image and show that there were healthy benefits of living in Utah. The LDS church started to feel the political pressure from their boycott of non-Mormon businesses.

Salt Lake City’s population continued to increase as the mining industry was evolving. In 1882, the president of the LDS church, John Taylor, had no choice but to abandon the boycott. (Woodward and Campbell) Mormon and non-Mormon businessmen “voiced concern that the city’s negative public image was hindering eastern investment in Utah’s resources.” (Hafen, 361)  McCornick, Patrick Lanahan, owner of The Salt Lake Tribune, and Mormon apostle Heber J. Grant joined together to form the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce in an effort to bring the community together for “business promotion purposes.” (Woodward and Campell, 18) With their motto, “No politics or religion in the Chamber,” they hoped to “revive trade, establish home industries, and attract capital and population to the territory. (Woodward and Campbell, 18)

Salt Lake Tribune reporter and historian O.N Malmquist wrote, “I think the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce was the first formal organization in Salt Lake in the territory of Utah, in which Mormons and gentiles got together and actively collaborated in common causes. And in that sense it was certainly one of the major instruments of the evolution from the ‘irrepressible conflict’ to the situation we have today.” (Woodward and Campbell, 19)

In the early years of the Chamber of Commerce, the chamber set aside $4,000 of its $10,000 budget in an effort to change the public image of Utah through advertising and marketing. One of the first efforts was The Exposition Palace Car. On June 6, 1888, a rail car left Salt Lake City with the words on both sides, “Utah Exposition Palace Car; The Resources of Salt Lake City, the Gem City of the Rocky Mountains; Free exhibit sent under the auspices of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.” (Woodard and Campbell, 19) It traveled 9,000 miles around the United States. A 96-page booklet written by the secretary, M.J. Forhan, called, “Salt Lake City; A sketch of Utah’s Wonderful Resources,” was distributed at stops around the country. This helped attract people and contributed to the economic development of the state. Shortly after the campaign, H.L.A Culmer wrote The Journal of Commerce, which spoke of the three-month trek to the East with the car. The end results of the campaign were fourteen tons of printed matter at a cost of $3,339.25 ($78,719.69 in 2009 dollars), which brought in thousands of new residents and got the Chamber recognition. (Inflation Calculator)

The Chamber was passionate about increasing the Utah population. It hired the Western Investment Company of Chicago to distribute 30,000 promotional pamphlets to over 200 cities in the East. (Woodward and Campbell) Also, as stated in the Journal of Commerce, the chamber placed ads in “100 of the country’s leading daily publications.”

Today, the Salt Lake Chamber represents 4,600 businesses statewide and “one in every three jobs in the Utah economy,” as stated on the Web site.  Also, it is Utah’s “largest business association and Utah’s Business Leader.” The Chamber recently celebrated its 100-year anniversary and released a history book called Common Ground, 100 years of the Salt Lake Chamber, by Don Woodard and Joel Campbell. The Chamber’s mission statement, as quoted on its site, is, “As Utah’s Business Leader, we stand as the voice of business, we support our member success, and we champion community prosperity.” The organization works with businesses such as American Express, Wells Fargo, Zion’s National Bank, Delta Air Lines, Questar  and many other firms.

Woodard and Campbell write, “Almost without exception, every major event and accomplishment in Salt Lake for the last 100 years has felt the influence of the Chamber. Whether it was the development of freeway routes, location of hospitals, distribution of welfare, building of the airport, securing the Utah Jazz, promotion of winter sports, or creating a business-friendly environment, it has been the Salt Lake Chamber leading the charge.” (Woodward and Campbell, 11)

Emma Fullerton is a communication major with an emphasis in public relations at the University of Utah.

Sources

Thomas K. Hafen, “City of Saints, City of Sinners: The Development of Salt Lake City As A Tourist Attraction 1869-1900,” The Western Historical Quarterly (Autumn 1997).

“Secretary’s Report,” Salt Lake Journal of Commerce (January 1891): 6.

The Inflation Calculator.

H.C.A. Culmer, “On the Utah Exposition Car,” Salt Lake Journal of Commerce (August 1888).

Don Woodward and Joel Campbell. Common Ground, 100 years of the Salt Lake Chamber. Alabama: Community Communications, 2003.

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