The year was 1888 and a Union Pacific railroad “palace car” filled with the paintings of Utah scenes, minerals, and pamphlets roamed the tracks between sixty eastern cities for three months. Even then, Utahns wanted to change the image of their hinterlands territory while attracting new business and residents. To prove their point, enterprising businessmen set out on a 9,000-mile journey to show off Salt Lake City–”Gem City of the Rocky Mountains.”
During a palace car stop in Wisconsin, a reporter for the Beloit Free Press wrote of the effort:
“The people of Utah may have been asleep in business matters, but surely the businessmen of Salt Lake are awake in their great advertising enterprise of sending a magnificent car loaded with the Territory’s productions throughout the country to show the people of the country generally the remarkable and really wonderful variety of the productions, especially in the mineral line, of the quite obscure Utah.”
While the Salt Lake Chamber traces its 100-year roots to a well-documented beginning just after the turn of the century in 1902, Utah history includes an earlier Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce formed in 1887 and the instigator of such activities as the traveling Utah exhibit. To ignore this early Chamber would be to forget important contributions that set the stage for the 1902 Commercial Club formation and its eventual evolution into the modern-day Salt Lake Chamber.
Early business groups
Since the Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, residents were interested in commerce. Pioneers bartered for goods and eventually began establishing businesses that would serve the needs of their frontier communities. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sought an independent economic system; an underlying philosophy of self-reliance colored the economic climate for nearly four decades.
The growing settlements attracted non-Mormon, or so-called “gentile,” businesses. Eventually rifts grew between the Mormons and gentile enterprises. At one point, LDS Church leaders felt that outside influence would undermine their economic experiment and they instituted a boycott of non-Mormon businesses. Leaders formalized trade and wholesale distribution as part of co-operatives. After the death of Brigham Young in 1877 and succession of LDS Church President John Taylor, economic control continued to expand. For example, by 1882, Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI), imported one-third of the merchandise consumed in Utah Territory. Following the cooperatives, church leaders organized the United Orders and finally the Board of Trade movement between 1869-86.
With the beginning of mining and smelting, many more gentiles were attracted to Utah. Financiers, business leaders and mining magnates started to form their own groups including the exclusive Alta Club and participated in a Utah Board of Trade.
The Board of Trade
As early as 1879, a Board of Trade was functioning in Utah. Thomas R. Jones served as president, with banker William S. McCornick as treasurer and O.J. Hollister as secretary. During his career, Jones was an officer of various mining companies and manager of Germania Smelter. The Board of Trade, with representatives from Salt Lake City, Alta, Park City, Bingham Canyon, Ogden, Logan, Manti, Frisco, Silver Reef, and St. George, published an 1879 guide, “The Resources and Attractions of the Territory of Utah.”
The pamphlet, approved at a meeting in a federal courtroom, played up the territory’s advantages. For example, it spoke of the healthful effects of living in the mountains:
“People adopting the country as their permanent home will also enter upon new conditions, changing in a great degree from former habits. Very many of the denizens of Utah may be said to work, eat, and sleep almost in the open air, amid rude surroundings and in quite primitive style; cooking their simple food over camp fires, or in open fire places in comparatively open buildings. Much of the healthful influence popularly attributed to the climate is doubtless due to this cause, and it is to those who place themselves in similar circumstances as far as possible that improved health comes.”
As political pressures intensified and the non-Mormon sector grew in numbers and influence, the LDS Church leaders’ grip on the business ventures loosened. Under the shadow of the boom of the 1880s, people were pouring into Salt Lake City, and developers subdivided many large downtown blocks. As the boom attracted many to the mines and mineral industries, earlier economic divisions began to decrease. Finally, LDS Church President John Taylor abandoned the boycott of gentile businesses in 1882.
The 1887 Chamber
Such changes in the political and economic climate opened up opportunities to build bridges across the community’s schisms. Historians Thomas G. Alexander and James B. Allen noted that one of the most significant signals of a shift in the leadership of Salt Lake City was marked by the organization of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce on April 23, 1887. It was a time when many sought new accommodation in the territory. Under a series of anti-polygamy legislation beginning in 1882 with the Edmunds Act and the more severe Edmund-Tucker Act of 1887, LDS Church leaders began softening their stand. In 1887, a new Utah Constitution was drafted outlawing plural marriage and national allies were enlisted to help get Utah statehood.
Territorial Governor Caleb West, who served from 1886-1888 and 1893 until statehood in 1896, encouraged the organization of the Chamber and other groups that would serve broad community interests and include all elements
of society. With a motto of “No politics or religion in the Chamber,” organizers hoped to revive trade, establish home industries, and attract capital and population to the territory.
Long-time Salt Lake Tribune reporter and historian O.N. Malmquist said various leaders were contacted and met in the federal courtroom on April 2, 1887. Fred J. Myers nominated West as chairman of the meeting, and he was unanimously elected. Speakers included C.W. Bennett, W.M. Ferre, Henry W. Lawrence, and several others. They explained the purpose of trying to bring the two warring sides of the community together for business promotion purposes. Mormon historian Orson F. Whitney said that beyond the ordinary role of most chambers of commerce, Governor West believed the organization could foster conciliation and accommodation. But as Whitney put it, the members did not “wear this purpose upon their sleeves for daws to peck at.”
The first president of the new 1887 organization was banker William A. McCornick. A native of Ireland, McCornick came to Salt Lake City in 1873 and became a dominant figure in finance of the Intermountain area. He founded the McCornick Bank and acquired extensive holdings in mining, smelting, and real estate. He was probably Utah’s wealthiest resident at one time. His wife, Hannah Keogh McCornick, entertained lavishly.
Governor West served as chairman of the organizing meeting and Heber J. Grant, a young Mormon businessman and member of the LDS Council of the Twelve, and Patrick H. Lannan, principal owner and publisher of the anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune, both signed the articles of incorporation.
Activities were chronicled in the Chamber’s own business newspaper, The Journal of Commerce, published from July 1887 through 1893. Artist and writer H.L.A. Culmer served as its editor and was a primary organizer during the early Chamber years.
In 1888, The Journal of Commerce listed the officers of The Chamber of Commerce as follows: President William S. McCornick, First Vice President George A. Lowe, and Second Vice President Frank W. Jennings. Other board members included M.J. Farlan, T.R. Jones, W.H. Remington, James Glendenning, Fred H. Auerbach, Emanuel Kahn, J.C. Conklin, H.L.A. Culmer, M.H. Walker, and T. G. Webber.