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The modem Chamber of Commerce is an outgrowth of the early efforts of business to organize, and it undoubtedly had its beginning in the fairs and guilds of medieval Europe. The name was borrowed from the French, having been applied first to an association of merchants at Marseilles in the Fifteenth Century. The early associations were closely affiliated with the government. Of the Chambers of Commerce organized and conducted independently of the government, the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York, founded in 1768 at New York City, is one of the world's oldest, and was the first in America. Five years later a Chamber of Commerce was organized at Charleston, South Carolina, and soon afterwards Chambers were organized at New York City and Boston, and slowly at other points upland and inland. Consistently since that time, Chambers of Commerce have become more important and more numerous institutions in business affairs throughout the world.

The idea is not attributed to any one person, but is more or less derived from the needs of groups for organized, co-operative efforts.

Many local Chambers of Commerce still retain the name Commercial Club, or Association of Commerce. However, there was a definite trend toward unifying the name given to civic and business organizations such as Chambers in the early 1920's.

As to the amount of power exercised in the business world by business and professional men working together in an organization, it would be difficult to say. Basically, the Chamber of Commerce had, and still has, two primary functions:

First it acts as spokesman for the business community and translates into action the group thinking of its constituency, and second it renders specific services of a type that can be most effectively rendered by a community organization both to its membership and to the community as a whole. In the early days Chambers of Commerce functioned almost exclusively as trade bodies. They were organized for the protection of commerce and transit, for the protection of market places, to promote the sale of goods and to make rules governing market places. Some of them had trading floors. In these fields, they were most effective.

Since the turn of the last century, Chambers of Commerce have expanded their functions and their activities, now reaching into most every part of community life. They acquired an outlook as "community organizations," which is not overshadowed by basic commercial design. Their programs now include activities designed to promote the growth of the entire community along commercial, industrial and civic lines, with greater emphasis being placed on community development. Practically every city. of five thousand population and upward has a Chamber of Commerce and many of lesser size are organized to some degree along community development lines. It is a highly democratic form of organization.

Herein is given an explanation for the purpose of clarifying the use of the name Chamber of Commerce, as distinguished from the Northeast Nebraska United Chambers of Commerce, or the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America.

Local chambers of commerce have been organized by business and professional men and women with a keen sense of civic pride, for the purpose of protecting and promoting the general welfare of their community and territory which the chamber serves, for the solution of mutual business and community problems, and to capitalize upon their mutual business and community opportunities.

No two chambers of commerce operate alike since the problems which they attempt to solve are never entirely alike. The only direct connection between a chamber of commerce in one community and a chamber of commerce in another, is that their problems may be similar. There is, however, a free exchange of ideas between these community organizations through the Nebraska Association of Commercial Organization Secretaries.

The Northeast Nebraska United States Chamber of Commerce, an organization composed of the Chambers of Commerce in the nineteen Northeast counties of Nebraska, was organized for the purpose of developing the Northeast section of the State, its roads and high

The History of Platte County Nebraska

ways, its industrial opportunities, improved agricultural practices, and a better relationship between its cities.

The entire State of Nebraska was divided up into a number of similar organizations comprising counties within definite areas for the same purpose in their section of the State.

In 1947 P. W. Lakers of Columbus was the president of the Northeast District organization, and John Armstrong, also of Columbus, was the chairman of their Agricultural and Soil Conservation Committee. This group met four to six times a year, and usually was represented by from two hundred fifty to three hundred business and professional men and farmers in this nineteen-county area.

During legislative years they worked on legislative matters affecting either the State as a whole or the Northeast section and the economy of these political subdivisions.

The Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, with offices in Washington, D. C., has a membership composed of both individual firms and local chambers of commerce banded together for the purpose of solving the problems affecting the welfare of business and labor and the economy of the nation.

Over twenty-two hundred local chambers of commerce are members of this national organization. Local organizations like the Columbus Chamber of Commerce derive benefit from the research, and the applied developments of the National Chamber. However, the national organization does not in any way dictate to local organizations in matters of operation and promotion.

Quite the reverse is true, referenda are mailed to local organizations on major issues of importance, and based upon these replies the policies of the United States Chamber of Commerce are determined.

In the 1940's Columbus became a member of the Northeast Division of the United States Chamber of Commerce, with their regional- offices located in Minneapolis, Minnesota:

Within the Northeast Nebraska United Chamber of Commerce the problems which affect the people of Norfolk, Fremont, Pierce, Neligh and any of the other towns in the area, are problems that affect Columbus.

This union of chambers of commerce also presents an opportunity for the discussion and solving of problems. A unified front by a section of the State during legislative years helps that section obtain needed legislation. For instance the creation. of an Agricultural Industrial Commission helped not only the Northeast section of the State but the entire state. Farm-to-market roads, their development, and the development of better highways in this section are other matters which are handled through this organization.

The fact that some of the counties and communities holding membership in the Northeast Nebraska United Chambers are outside of the Columbus trade area is unimportant. It is the work of Columbus as a local Chamber of Commerce to act as the medium in the development of its own trade area.


The Columbus Chamber of Commerce, through the years, has followed an active program of development for Columbus and its vicinity. It has expanded its activities to include aviation, manufacturing, an organizational interest in national affairs, and other activities too numerous to mention. Practically every business and professional man in Columbus is a member of the organization. With this type of support a community cannot help but progress. Men and women working together for a greater Columbus as a better place to live and as a community of opportunity with the enthusiasm that is shown by these members, cannot help but be leaders among communities.



G. H. Gray, Otto F. Walter, Ray H. Heynen, Herbert Hahn, Doctor Julian E. Meyer, George S. Reeder, E. W. Dempewolf, Phil R. Hockenberger, Lowell L. Walker, Edward M. Nielsen, Lyndal Carter, Frank Shonka, Lyman Mead, P. W. Lakers, William "Bill" Adams, Robert D. Flory, Henry Slocum, William M. Calhoun, James L. Rich, Clarence Kuhns, John Armstrong, Howard Burdick, Noyes C. Rogers, Elmer Lohr, and H. P. Behlen.


1947-1948 Howard Burdick, President
Noyes C. Rogers, First Vice-President
Leonard Miller, Second Vice-President
P. L. Bauer, Third Vice-President
John Armstrong, Treasurer
Board of Directors: W. W. Johnson, Charlie M. Ball. Walter Behlen.

1948- 1949
Elmer Lohr President
Ray Woodrick First Vice-President
Milan Austin Second Vice-President
H. P. Behlen Third Vice-President
Gary Brazeal Treasurer
Noyes Rogers Director
C. B. Fricke Director
Howard Burdick Director
Harold Ward Junior Chamber representative
H. P. Behlen President
Ray Woodrick First Vice-President
Milan Austin Second Vice-President
J. O. Peck Third Vice-President
G. A. Klein Treasurer
Gary Brazeal Director
E. H. Lohr Director
C. B. Fricke Director
Clarence Wilken Director
Forrest Corn Director
Edd Kelly Director
Louis Lightner Director


Commerce Organizations


The 1946 officers of the junior Chamber of Commerce (also called Jaysee's) were:

Vincent Jones, President; Robert Lofton, Vice-President; and Harvey Loseke, Secretary.

In 1946-1947 an office in the City Hail was maintained by the Chamber of Commerce, with two full time paid employees, Fred A. Wiren, Manager; and Miss Betty Armstrong, Office Manager.

Harold Ward President
Frank Johnson, M.D. First Vice-President
William Bates Second Vice-President
Clarence Wilken Third Vice-President
George Wolf Secretary-Treasurer
Alfred Becher Director
Marvin Knutsen Director
D. E. Weinman, D.V.S. Director
George Johansen, Jr. Director
Orville Oberg Director
Paul Abegglen Director
Lae Lamb Director
Gary Brazeal Board Advisor
Elmer Lohr Senior Chamber representative

1949- 1950

Harvey Loseke President
Lawrence Torczon First Vice-President
Vince Jones Second Vice-President
George Morrow Third Vice-President
Eddie Ridenour Secretary-Treasurer
Harold Ward Director
Frank Johnson, M.D. Director
Alfred Becher Director
Clarence Wilken Director
Marvin Knutsen Director
Fred Harris Director
Terry Messing Director

From Business Men's Club

On the fourteenth day of December, 1908, a Business Men's Club was organized with a membership of thirty-two, all of whom were connected with the Y. M. C. A., as one of the tenets of the organization provides that no one shall be eligible unless a member of the Y. M. C. A. There are now sixty names on the Business Men's Club rolls, and since it came into existence, it has been the aim and object of the club to put forth strenuous effort toward inducing manufacturers to locate in Columbus and to create a spirit of progress and improvement among the citizens. The club is composed of many of the leading business men of this city and has several regular meetings at the Y. M. C. A. each year.

From Columbus Daily Telegram

In 1908 the Chamber of Commerce came into existence. It was then known as the "Commercial Club." Although the problems of every community vary in accordance with the current demands, this organization was very much like other organizations of its kind throughout the country.

The membership was average and the financial support the Commercial Club received was very nominal. This situation continued until the time when the Loup River Public Power District was actually approved.

Early-day newspaper accounts which covered the activities of the Commercial Club gave us our only account of the organization. For many years only monthly meetings were held and these attended by between thirty and forty men. No full time secretary was in charge of the work and no permanent office was maintained.

Some of the early day projects of the club included a campaign against the removal of the "hitching post" which brought down a storm of protest upon the town as a whole. However, after the smoke cleared away, all agreed that it was a good idea.

The Columbus Chamber of Commerce has always taken a very active part in the building of good roads so it was not surprising to find that one of the early activities of the organization was, as the newspaper account states, to "take Nebraska out of the mud." In other words, an enthusiastic interest was taken by this organization in the Nebraska Good Roads Association as well as the Lincoln Highway Association. It is only fair at this point to mention the outstanding work done along these lines by A. R. Miller of Columbus, who has always been an ardent good roads booster.

Still another interest of the local commercial group was manifested in the attraction of the State Young Men's Christian Association summer camp to the Columbus vicinity. Here again we find an individual figuring prominently in this matter, and he is C. C. Sheldon, who so generously contributed the necessary land for this camp. This gift was also supplemented by a cash donation from the business interests of the city in the amount of two thousand dollars. This occurred in 1919. No doubt there are many other worthwhile accomplishments of the Chamber of Commerce which cannot be recounted here.

The account now jumps to the year 1934 when word was first received of the allotment of the six million for the construction of the power canal.

In order to give concrete evidence of the valuable part the Chamber of Commerce played in the final acquisition of the power project, permit me to call your attention to the action of that organization which took place in 1932 when more than ten thousand dollars was raised in the city, which fund was to be used to finance the preliminary work necessary before the government would seriously consider the matter. Although the entire sum was not raised exclusively among Chamber of Commerce members, many non-members con-

The History of Platte County Nebraska

tributing their just share, still the credit of raising this fund should go to the commercial group. One reason is because the Chamber assumed the major responsibility for its being raised and the other because the Chamber of Commerce budget suffered to an appalling degree and as a result had to cut its expenditures in order to cooperate with the power project development. With definite approval of the project the civic leaders again began to look toward the active operation of the Chamber of Commerce with increased membership and budget . . . They were without a secretary for a brief time, but in 1934 a secretary was employed and plans immediately undertaken for a live active program. Between June and March ground work was thoroughly studied and plans were laid for a membership and budget campaign which would place the organization on a firm financial basis. The membership was thus increased from one hundred to three hundred fifty and the budget from approximately thirty-five hundred dollars to eighty-nine hundred dollars.

A program of objectives was set up for the year. The chamber was incorporated and a constitution and bylaws were adopted. Committees were appointed and they, in turn, made surveys of the community. Good will tours were taken to neighboring communities and fairs. A campaign against center-parking was successfully waged; hundreds of convention visitors were attracted to the city; a housing show was held in support of the Federal Housing Administration, but again, we must pause for space does not permit a detailed account of the accomplishments of this civic body.

Instead of a day-by-day existence, the Chamber of Commerce has a well planned program which extends over a period of years and which is redounding to the benefit of every business organization in the city. "The success of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, or any other similar organization for that matter, is builded upon a rock of faith, sincerity and action, and if so founded, is a power for civic growth and never can be shaken or overthrown."

CHAMBER OF COMMERCE (Ninetieth Anniversary) 1946
From Columbus Daily Telegram

In 1875, nineteen years after the founding of Columbus, a group of local merchants organized the Black Hills Mining Company. They wished Columbus to be known as the outfitting and caravan place for the mines.

Newspapers at that time carried advertisements for coming by rail to Columbus and purchasing all of their necessities here. The club also retained a group of plainsmen who knew the hills country, and the best routes to get there.

These scouts agreed at a certain price per vehicle to lead gold seekers to their desired destination. Captain Luther North, who had been present when gold was discovered in the hills, headed the scouts.


Early-day industries were conceived in its rooms and flourished for a while, then they passed into oblivion.

About the turn of the century, the Columbus Commercial Club made its appearance, and for the next twenty years did inestimable service, blossoming to its fullest during the period of World War I.

Today the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, time tried and tested with a full time office staff has a long record of genuine service in the community.


Perhaps the best way to indicate the many-sided functions of the modern Chamber of Commerce is to list its committees.

Advertising and Publicity
Historical. To advertise historic lore and to identify points of interest in and about Columbus.
National Affairs
Public Safety and Health
Roads and Highways

By Francis Dischner

"The first organization in Columbus to function along the lines of the present-day concept of the Chamber of Commerce, was the Black Hills Mining Club, which had its being in 1875 --nineteen years after the founding of Columbus.

"A bit of history surrounds this club. Gold had newly been discovered in the Black Hills region of South Dakota Territory and a great stampede of prospectors and settlers was under way. Columbus, on the Mormon Trail and the Oregon Trail, was already firmly established as a prairie stopping place for westward bound travellers. In the 1870's and 1880's, Columbus was also one of the chief spots in the Nebraska Territory where plainsmen and scouts were accustomed to congregate. Also, a number of flourishing business establishments were catering to the immigrant trade. These firms organized the Black Hills Mining Club to induce travellers to come by rail to Columbus, and be completely outfitted in Columbus for the prairie schooner journey to the Indian-infested Black Hills region. The Club proclaimed that it had carefully mapped a choice of several routes, each of which would afford the caravan with at least one fresh water supply daily. The Club retained a group of scouts, headed by the famous plainsman and scout, Captain Luther North. For a specified amount per wagon (after the wagon and all the other settlers' supplies were bought in Columbus presumedly),

* The material in this chapter was compiled from Questionnaires.

Commerce Organizations

these scouts would lead the caravan to the promised land. Enroute, the scouts would likewise supervise the security of the caravan, and organize any resistance from redskin attack that might be necessary.

"Secretary of the Black Hills Mining Club was one I. N. Taylor, who was, I believe, an insurance and real estate dealer. Taylor was a versatile fellow, and a very active booster in his day. He can quite properly be called the 'Father of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce'. Taylor eventually moved from Columbus and after a few years, the Club seems to have died.

"A few years after the demise of the Mining Club, presumably in the late 1870's, Columbus merchants organized the Board of Trade, which was perhaps the first real over-all commercial club in the city. Columbus had already become a city of the second class, and a number of' manufacturing plants were being started. It was a very potent factor in the 1880's and that was one of the golden eras of the city. Columbus had at one time two huge flour mills which shipped to great distances. It also had a very successful meat packing plant, a windmill factory, and, of course, the brewery. The wooden shoe sole factory started along about that time. The Board of Trade waged a never-ending fight against what it maintained were discriminatory freight rates, and I believe it is undisputed that the reason for the eventual failure of all of the early factories, save the brewery and shoe sole factory, were freight rates that made it impossible for them to compete against eastern firms.

"The Columbus Commercial Club was organized after the turn of the century, exact year unknown. This club was continuous after a fashion to the present day. The old fight against freight rates was one of the earliest projects. Also, at various times, the club would receive new impetus when another in a long series of attempts to erect a hydro-electric project along the Loup River in the Columbus area flared up. Harrison Elliott was perhaps the most outstanding of the secretaries."

(From The Columbus Daily Telegram, October 15, 1949)

Perhaps no city in the United States, large or small, has a Chamber of Commerce of greater value to the community than the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. Its membership includes a majority of Columbus business and professional men. It should include all of them.

Why do I make that broad statement?

Because I believe it.

I have just been reading the views of a business man who feels that he has not been playing fair with his home city of Schenectady, N. Y. He writes as follows:

"My city owes me nothing. If accounts were balanced at this date, I would be the debtor. Haven't I all these years, lived within the limits of the city and shared all its benefits? Haven't I had the protection of its fire, police and health departments? Haven't I had the benefit of its schools, churches and hospitals? Hasn't this city furnished the patronage by which I have succeeded in my business? Hasn't it furnished the best friends of my life? What will I give in return? Not simply the taxes which cover so small a part of what I have received. I want to give more. I want of my own free will, to give so that I can take pride in its prosperity, in the honors which come to its citizens, and in all that makes it greater and better. I can do this only by becoming a part of the city-by giving to it generously of myself. In this way only can I, even in small part, pay the great debt I owe to my city. In the Chamber of Commerce I have my chance and I welcome it."

Have I, a citizen of Columbus, been playing fair with my home city? Have I paid my share of taxes? Have I contributed as liberally as I might to projects of the Chamber of Commerce for the betterment of the city? I do not know for sure, but it is my firm resolve to leave nothing within my power undone to play the part of a good citizen who feels that Columbus has done more for me than I have done for Columbus.

Is there another conscience-stricken business or professional man in Columbus one who feels he has not been treating his home town fairly? If such there be well, let him come in and confess with me our joint municipal sins, and then go quickly to Manager Hay, of the Chamber of Commerce, asking him to give us some type of civic duty, performance of which will serve as faultless absolution.


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© 2005 for the NEGenWeb Project by Ted & Carole Miller