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Chamber History

Williamsport Lycoming Shamber of CommerceJanuary 2010


This is the second in a year long series of articles taking a look back at the Chamber’s history in celebration of its 125th Anniversary.  The Chamber was founded on December 15, 1885 as the Williamsport Board of Trade.

            When the Board of Trade convened and elected its first Board of Directors on Tuesday, December 15, 1885, it was, in large part, a response to the decline of the lumbering industry and the need to rebuild Williamsport’s economy by building a diverse manufacturing base.  Over the course of its formative years, the Board of Trade had considerable success in bringing in new manufacturers to hire the residents of Williamsport and the surrounding communities.  And, while obstacles arose from time to time, they continued to work and raised considerable sums of money that assisted them in luring new industries to the valley.  Interestingly, the Board of Trade took extraordinary steps to not only lure companies here, but to insure their success. 
            The United States Sales Company sold vending machines.  The owners and investors in the company came to the Board of Trade in the summer of 1915 looking for assistance.  After what appears to be a good deal of negotiation, the Board of Trade and the owners of the company reached an agreement that the members of the Industrial and Commercial Service Bureau of the Board of Trade would actually run the company and the United States Sales Company would employ the Bureau to “supply the executive management of the organization of the United States Sales Company and the development of same on a service fee basis until it became evident that the United States Sales Company is in a position to employ some competent executive on a full time basis.”
As far as I can tell, the United States Sales Company was a start up business.  The Board of Trade managed the affairs and their first action was to order the manufacturing of up to 1000 vending machines from the Villinger Manufacturing Company.
            It is hard to imagine the Chamber or the Industrial Properties Corporation taking over the management of a company today.  While we do support loans and actually are responsible for paying back some debt should a company go bankrupt, to actually run the company would be something unheard of today.
            Just a few years later world events took precedence over new companies when the Board of Trade met on Friday evening December 28th 1917.  The purpose of that meeting was, according to the minutes, to discuss “to discuss how best to get orders from our factories for the manufacture of such commodities as were recognized by the government as essentials.”  The entrance of the United States into World War I had impacted Williamsport in many ways.  The manufacturing sector was one that was impacted significantly.  First, factories were experience a shortage of employees because of the war effort.  Secondly, as indicated above, they were looking for ways to garner some of the government spending for the war effort.
            “J.J. Heintz reported on his work with the Council of National Defense and stated that the list of essentials and nonessentials had been prepared…” The minutes went on to explain there were three levels of products according to the federal government.  The first and second classifications were items that would have shipping priority over the railroads and items listed in the third classification would “be practically barred from transportation…” It is obvious why the Board wanted to ensure local factories received orders for priority items.  The following is an excerpt from one report made by local companies that evening:
            “Mr. Tom Page reported that 25% of capacity of the wood working plant of the Victor Talking Machine Company had been turned over to the manufacture of woodwork for aeroplanes.”
            The Board listened to numerous reports and finalized and unanimously passed the following resolution:
            “Resolved:  That it is the consensus of opinion of the manufacturers represented at this meeting that it is necessary for manufacturers of Williamsport to secure a share of the war order business to keep their factories going and to help win the war;
            That group meetings of all manufacturers should be held on Saturday of this week for further discussion of the plan proposed;
            That all manufacturers of Williamsport cooperate with each other in sending a high-class man to Washington to remain during the period of war, for the purpose of soliciting contracts for all government supplies that can be manufactured in established factories in Williamsport;
            That this meeting be adjourned to meet Monday night, Dec. 31st to receive reports and to determine what plan is best suited to accomplish the result desired, and perfect an organization to put same in operation.”
            After several meetings of different Manufacturing sections of the local economy, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trade hired Mr. Chas. C Krouse to represent the manufacturers of Williamsport in Washington D.C. to secure as much war related business as possible for Williamsport manufacturers.