Behind every great business organization, an energetic and motivated personality usually acts as catalyst. Called everything from the Chamber’s “sparkplug boy” to “the first of the western boomers,” Fisher Harris was among the first to personify the early Chamber, known then as the Commercial Club.
The affable Harris first arrived in Salt Lake City in 1899, hiring on as a clerk at the Continental Hotel. He moved up to be chief clerk at the Knutsford Hotel until he became a member of the state land board and then a member of the local stock exchange. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the great pre-statehood election of 1895.
Upon his appointment to the Chamber, The Salt Lake Tribune said, “No one who knows Fisher S. Harris will question his peculiar fitness for the position to which he has been chosen…Few men in Utah have a wider acquaintance throughout the state than Mr. Harris, and few men are more familiar with the needs of both city and state. He has been prominent in politics for years. He could have been presidential elector in 1896, but magnanimously withdrew for another; he has been a prominent candidate for the Democratic nomination for Congress on more occasions than one, and was the manager of the McCune forces in the great senatorial fight of 1899.”
In 1902, Harris became the Commercial Club’s first “working secretary” and the board officially made him secretary in 1906. He served as the group’s point man until his untimely death in 1909. Often described as a man ahead of his time, Harris proposed a six-story Commercial Club building ten years before it was actually built.
Perhaps his most lasting legacy is the state and national tourism industry. He’s credited with first attracting Eastern tourists to Utah and the West with promotions and conferences built around his slogan “See Europe if you will, but see America First.” For such efforts, Fisher gained national recognition as the “booster who started the movement to give Utah a place in the sun.” After his death, Collier’s Weekly called him the “first of the western boomers.” The slogan, “See America First” was eventually coined as a national tourism slogan.
In 1906, Harris wrote to the Commercial Club’s board of governors and told of the large amount spent by American tourists each year in Europe. He pointed out that a concerted effort by western railroads, hotels, commercial bodies, and newspapers could help divert tourists to the West. If it brought even one-fourth of the money spent in Europe, it would be successful. Fisher drew representatives from through the West to Salt Lake City for a “See America First” conference, and a national advertising campaign followed.
The Salt Lake Tribune reporting in the Chamber’s twenty-fifth anniversary edition, noted that the six-year-old national advertising effort inspired by Fisher had paid off.
“In 1921 50,000 tourists visited Utah; in 1926 the number swelled to 427,000,” The Tribune said. By the Chamber’s fiftieth anniversary, The Tribune noted how one million had visited Yellowstone National Park and Temple Square the previous year, while another six hundred thousand had visited southern Utah’s Bryce and Zion parks.
The vision of such remarkable tourism in Utah and the West, the newspaper said, belonged to Harris.
Sources: The Salt Lake Tribune, Silver Anniversary Edition of the Chamber of Commerce and Commercial Club, 11 February 1927. Salt Lake Tribune, 17 February 1952 (Utah State Historical Society Clipping Files). Clipping of 2 January 1910 (newspaper unknown) by Joseph E. Caine in H.L.A. Culmer scrapbook, Utah State Historical Society. Jean Bickmore White, “November 5, 1895-The Most Important Election Day in Utah History,” Beehive History 21 (1995).