The Chamber Begins, 1902-1930

The Earlier Chamber of 1887: A Cautionary Tale

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.”

A New Beginning in 1902: Meet the Commercial Club

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.

Cleaning Up the City

On January 12, 1914, the Commercial Club’s Good Roads Committee presented a letter for the city commission about yet another civic improvement. “State Street is the main thoroughfare coming into Salt Lake City from the south and it is of the utmost importance, not only to Salt Lake, but all the different towns south of here who do business in this city, that State Street should be paved as rapidly as possible,” the petition said.

Chasing Smoke

Smoke pollution was a big problem during almost the entire first half of the Twentieth Century, but in the wintertime in Salt Lake City it was fierce. Everyone burned coal–soft, bituminous, and mined in Utah. People burned it in their homes, railroad steam engines chuffed through the valley, industries grew and brought coal-fired smelters and manufacturing plants, leaving a black pall to envelop the city.

“Earthquake, Panic, Death, Fire and Destruction”

That apocalyptic headline shouted the news to Salt Lake City residents on the morning of April 18, 1906, after an earthquake and fire nearly destroyed San Francisco. Considered one of the worst disasters ever to hit an American city, the Great San Francisco Earthquake was huge news in Salt Lake City.

It also became a major proving ground for the fledgling Commercial Club, then just over four years old. It would test the Commercial Club and its ability to pull the community together, and would unite interests as varied as churches, governments, and ordinary people.

The Magnate and the Magnificent “Club House”

When it opened in 1909, the Commercial Club building was heralded as a sign of community progress and a harbinger of growth for what would become the Salt Lake Chamber.

Early Commercial Club secretary Fisher Harris had proposed a six-story building in 1904 for the growing organization. However, it wasn’t until 1908 that mining magnate Samuel Newhouse offered to donate land for a new Commercial Club building in his Exchange Place enclave, and he also donated the site for the Salt Lake Mining and Stock Exchange.

Bishop Nibley Bides His Time

In 1914, Salt Lake City was being prodded by women’s and civic organizations to increase its parks and playgrounds. It had just leased land from the Free Playground Society for a playground and had improved Liberty and Pioneer parks.

So it was in that spirit that the Commercial Club’s Field Sports and Athletics Committee, chaired by R. J. Armstrong, approached the board of governors with a radical proposal.

Melting the Ice: Commercial Club Jump-Starts the Rotary Club

The Salt Lake Rotary Club grew out of a conversation in Chicago between Wesley King of the National Copper Bank of Salt Lake and his Spanish-American war buddy, Chesley Perry, secretary of the Chicago Rotary Club and the “sparkplug” of Rotary’s expansion to San Francisco in 1908, and to fourteen other clubs by 1910. After his return, King discussed the idea with several prominent Salt Lake men, according to historian Leonard J. Arrington.

The Chamber’s Eyes on the Skies, 1910-1930

On a Sunday morning, a scrawny Frenchman named Louis Paulhan crawled into his 42-foot Farman two-seater biplane for a fourth try at the Utah skies. The engine crackled into life and Paulhan waved his arms. The little plane rattled down the makeshift airstrip covered with snow.  The plane was up.

Promoted by the Commercial Club and Governor William Spry, the first recorded airplane flight in Utah took place when barnstormer Paulhan roared into the skies over the state fairgrounds.

The First Airline Passenger, May 23, 1926

Ben F. Redman was a short and stocky Salt Lake businessman who resembled somebody’s grandfather, and he had a passion. He was convinced that the new field of aviation held great promise, not only for the country, but also for Salt Lake City.

As chairman of the aviation committee of the Chamber of Commerce and Commercial Club, he lobbied long and hard for improvements to the new airport, then called Woodward Field after an airmail pilot named John Woodward who crashed en route to Cheyenne from Salt Lake City.