The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce can trace its origins through a web of predecessor groups, starting in 1869 with formation of the city’s first commercial organization, the Springfield Board of Trade. That group lasted only a few years, but it served as a model for future local business alliances.
The Merchants and Shippers Association was formed in 1876, only to be supplanted in 1889 by the Springfield Citizens Improvement Association. That group too became inactive in a few years, but other business organizations formed and grew – the Retail Grocers Association, followed by the Springfield Retail Merchants Association and, in 1902, the Springfield Business Men’s Association. The SBMA, in particular, was helpful in attracting major industries to Springfield.
Meanwhile, an advertising group formed in 1906 – the Ad Men’s Club – changed its name to the Springfield Chamber of Commerce in 1908, and that organization rapidly became a dominant local commercial force, organizing Springfield’s celebration of the Lincoln Centennial in 1909 and raising money to help rebuild the Leland Hotel after a fire in 1908.
In 1910, the SBMA and Chamber merged into the 1,000-member Springfield Commercial Association, which played an important role in the 1910 referendum under which Springfield changed to the commission form of government.
The SCA returned to the name of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce in 1920, and under the 25-year leadership of Robert Irwin, the Chamber survived and in some ways prospered during both the Great Depression and World War II.
In 1953, the Chamber merged with the Springfield Manufacturers and Employers Association and the Springfield Industrial Development Commission to become the Association of Commerce and Industry. That group’s first priority was rehabilitation of the city of Springfield’s outmoded sewer network, a goal accomplished in 1956 with approval of a sewer bond issue.
Perhaps the ACI’s most significant achievement in the early 1960s was the commissioning in 1964 of a long-range development plan. Prepared by the Fantus Company of Chicago, the project consisted of an analysis of factors affecting the area economy, a 10-year employment forecast, and a list of industrial prospects. Most of the organization’s major projects for the next decade — expansion of vocational education, establishment of a four-year college, sewer rehabilitation, construction of a convention center — were outlined in the Fantus Report.
However, growth of Springfield and development elsewhere in Sangamon County led to another name change, meant to reflect the Chamber’s widening areas of interest. As a result, the ACI board voted on Dec. 16, 1970, to rename itself the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.
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