Fifty-five men milled about the Knutsford Hotel dining room. Utah Governor Heber M. Wells had called the meeting. Days earlier the top 100 business leaders in Salt Lake City—dubbed by the 43-year-old governor as the “Committee of 100”—had been summoned.
It was November 11, 1901. Gas lights could be seen flickering through the windows of the Knutsford as the men ended their conversations and found their seats at the dining room tables. Wells had gathered the luminaries and rising stars of Utah’s business community.
Governor Wells was chosen chairman of this first exploratory meeting, with Charles Read as secretary. Attendees examined every angle of a proposed “Commercial Club” as Read scrawled in pencil on Knutsford stationery.
C.N. Strevell moved to create the club. The motion was simple and direct, asking only that “a commercial club be organized to promote the business of Salt Lake.”
William Igleheart “talked to the motion,” urging the creation of “an organization to answer inquiries as to mining, real estate, and manufacturing and investment.”
H.G. Whitney noted “The time is ripe for the organization of such a club as it is contemplated,” saying that similar organizations already served Los Angeles and Denver.
The group supported a motion by Joseph Geoghegan to accept membership from throughout the state and to take stands on non-business affairs including schools, government, and “other matters of municipal concern.”
Finally, a motion by Schuyler V. Shelp directed that a fifteen-member committee be appointed to draft a constitution and by-laws.
After the committee researched the bylaws and a constitution, a second meeting was called at the Knutsford for January 18, 1902. Governor Wells sent a letter of invitation to business leaders on January 8.
“It is represented to me that there is a strong sentiment in this city at this time in favor of organizing a commercial club having for its sole object the promotion of the business interests of Salt Lake City and Utah. Accordingly, at the request of many citizens, I have appointed a committee of 100 businessmen of the city and requested them to meet to discuss the advisability of the movement to take such further action respecting organization as to them may seem just and proper…The importance of the enterprise, it seems to me, demands the prompt and full attendance,” Wells wrote.
Among the group named on the “Committee of 100” list were such business powerhouses as Joseph F. Smith, P.P. Pratt Jr., George M. Cannon, David Keith, John Dern, K.J. McIntyre, H.M. Dinwoodey, Samuel Auerbach, and George Romney.
About forty attended the second gathering. That night, a lively discussion centered on the bylaws. For example, the bylaws phrase was rewritten to read “mutually interested in each other’s welfare” instead of “rather than dividing them as enemies.”
Other discussion centered on fees and the nature of the organization. Although some argued for lower dues, the proposed fees and annual dues of $50 and $40 were eventually adopted. Those attending said there were already enough social clubs in the city and that the club’s purpose should focus on economic development, forgetting restaurants and other features.
Those who disagreed prevailed. John E. Dooly said the club should at least serve midday lunch. Without lunch, the “Commercial Club would follow in the footsteps of the
S.V. Shelp said the club must furnish lunch, it must be a pleasant place for businessmen to smoke, and must allow patrons to enjoy some of “the comforts and luxuries.” If not, it would not be patronized, he said. The social aspect, he said, would be the most important. With the social amenities, businessmen could not afford not to join. It would require $4,000 to $5,000 to outfit Commercial Club rooms.
Another third meeting was called for January 22, 1902, at the Knutsford. A Salt Lake Tribune writer penned an editorial on the day of that meeting:
“The field that the club can and will fill has for a good while been unoccupied; that it is now to be filled well and energetically is a good omen for all business interests concerned. The club should receive the earnest and hearty cooperation of all business interests.”
Like its predecessor organized in 1887, the new Commercial Club began anew to build bridges in the community. Upon reflection at the Chamber of Commerce and Commercial Club’s twenty-fifth anniversary, The Tribune noted:
“At the time of the organization of the club, Salt Lake City, and the entire state to a certain extent, was ‘a house divided against itself,’ and in fulfillment of the biblical promise was beginning to show signs of not being able to stand. Salt Lake for many years had been divided into two camps, carrying on a bitter warfare against each other. The utter folly of this was sensed by the organizers of the club. They knew that if the state were ever to develop and justify itself as one of the sovereign commonwealths of the nation its citizens would have to forget their petty differences and unite to make for it a place in the sun. The club came together at an opportune time. It provided an excellent means of bringing the various interests together on a common ground.”
A fifteen-member board of governors was elected January 22 during a meeting of twenty-five members. Board members included: Samuel Weitz, John C. Cutler, F.A. Druehl, E.W. Genter, and W. A. Nelden, to serve one year; H.M. Wells, G.P. Holman, R.S. Campbell, H.M. Dinwoodey, and S.V. Shelp, to serve two years; and John J. Daly, Joseph A. Silver, C.M. Strevell, C.P. Mason, and John E. Dooly, to serve three years. Temporary quarters were established in rooms over Wells Fargo Bank at 123-125 South Main, John E. Dooly offering free use of the quarters.
William A. Nelden was elected as the club’s first president; T.R. Cutler, vice president; John E. Dooly, treasurer; S.V. Shelp, secretary. A newspaper report of the time noted Nelden was a senior member of the Nelden-Judson Company, a member of the board of education and connected with the earlier Board of Trade. He was a prime promoter of the original Salt Palace, which opened in 1899.
During their first formal meeting, officers of the fledgling organization designated themselves as the membership committee and heard a request from Irwin Mahon, secretary of the International Mining Congress, to ask the U.S. Congress’ support for a bill to create a department of mining. The new organization also petitioned Congress to establish a branch of the U.S. Mint in Salt Lake City. Dreuhl, Weitz, and Mason were appointed to a committee to secure permanent quarters, which were acquired in the Dooly building annex, 222 S. West Temple.
Articles of incorporation were filed with the county clerk and certified copy with the secretary of state on February 11, 1902. Organizers inaugurated their new venture with a banquet that evening.
There were fifty-eight incorporators—with other members of the original committee of 100 considered charter members. Membership fee was set at $50 for residents; annual dues $40; membership fee $24 for non-residents; annual dues $20.
While Christensen’s Orchestra entertained with twelve selections including the “Dawn of Love,” “Cyrano De Bergerac,” and “Star Spangled Banner” in the Knutsford dining room, the first banquet attendees dined on Utah black bass, filet of beef, broiled teal duck, and cold asparagus. Members offered ten toasts honoring the Commercial Club, the state of Utah, the press, Salt Lake City, the business outlook, the “Great Republic,” the city’s water supply, “Utah as a sanitarium,” the “railroad situation,” and “the ladies.” An old photo of the event showed an all-male gathering with many of those dining sporting handlebar moustaches.
The program outlined the “Objects of the Commercial Club:”
- To bring into closer commercial and social relations all loyal and progressive citizens.
- To cultivate co-operation, public spirit and mutual help.
- To take vigorous action towards establishing new industries and commercial enterprises in our city.
- To infuse new life and energy into every branch of trade and encourage the patronage of home institutions and industries.
- To provide a cosmopolitan place of entertainment for strangers; a meeting place for all citizens interested in public work; convenient and comfortable quarters for business men to assimilate with the commercial world.
- To correct business evils and remove impediments to progress.
- To aid and encourage that which is good in municipal, state and national government, and strike at that which works to their detriment.
- To advertise the advantages of the city and state; to encourage immigration and the influx of capital; to stimulate the development of latent resources;
- To build up and educate a patriotic and loyal citizenship that will be the highest type of progressive Americanism.
Sources: Handwritten minutes of the first three meetings of the “Committee of 100,” 11 November 1901, 18 January 1902 and 22 January 1902; Part of Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce Collection, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah. “Silver Anniversary Edition of the Chamber of Commerce and Commercial Club,” The Salt Lake Tribune, 11 February 1927. Program of the First Banquet of the Commercial Club, 11 November 1902, Copy in L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library, Harold B. Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. Max B. Knudson, “Found: 80-year-old roots of S.L. Chamber of Commerce,” Deseret News, 21-22 January 1981. “Mustaches hinder identity of Utahns in Old Photo,” The Salt Lake Tribune, 9 April, 1947. Program of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce 50th Anniversary Dinner, 21 February 1952, Copy in Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah. “Progress on Club” The Salt Lake Tribune, 19 January 1902. “Commercial Club Started,” The Salt Lake Tribune, 19 January 1902; “Board of Governors Elected at Commercial Club Meeting Last Night,” The Salt Lake Tribune, 23 January 1902. Salt Lake Tribune, 12 February 1902. Linda Thatcher, “The Old Salt Palace – Temple of Amusement,” Beehive History 15 (1989): 15.