Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce - About us

Chamber History


Williamsport Lycoming Shamber of CommerceApril 2010

This is the fifth in a 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.

            I came across the 1929 Annual Report of the Chamber and in it is a section entitled "Let's Know Our Own Home Town".  I thought it would be interesting to relay some of the data contained in this section.  The date of the Annual Report is October 15, 1929.  Of course, the world would change forever and many lives and fortunes would be damaged just two weeks later when the Stock Market crashed and burned leading Williamsport and all of America into the Great Depression.  But, on October 15, 1929 Williamsport and the rest of the country was thriving, the stock market was booming and fortunes were being made.  So, what did Williamsport look like statistically at that time?  Here is some of what appeared in the "Annual Report of the Williamsport Chamber of Commerce - Let's Know Our Own Home Town" for the year ending October 15, 1929.
            The population of the city was 44,509 and the "suburban" population was listed as 6958 for a total of 51,467. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, estimates for the City of Williamsport in 2006 were 29,814. Unfortunately it does not define "suburban" in 1929 terms so I cannot tell you what areas it included in its count; regardless, today we have many less people living in the city - a phenomena not uncommon in most small cities throughout Pennsylvania.  Both Scranton and Wilkes-Barre are nearby cities that have much smaller populations today than they did in the 1920's and 1930's.  Many of our parents and grandparents moved to the suburbs changing living, shopping and working habits for everyone.
            According to the report, there were 10,350 dwellings and a whopping 70% of the homes were free of debt.  I don't have current figures, but I imagine no where near 70% of our homes are debt free today. I know mine isn't! There were 14,300 families with 50% reported as homeowners.  In 2006 we had 13,524 housing units with a home ownership rate of 44.8%.
            Some other statistics of interest:  The average family size in 1929 in the city was 3.5; in 2006 it is listed as 2.3.  There were 240 miles of streets in the city with only 27 miles paved.  In 1929 there were 62.5 miles of main sanitary sewers and 22 miles of storm sewers.            There was one police station with 36 men, 1 woman, 5 motorcycles, one police truck and one ambulance.  The fire department consisted of eight stations with 32 paid firemen and 26 call men.  The department was "entirely motorized" and had 8 pumpers with a total capacity of 5800 gallons a minute.  In addition there was one aerial ladder truck, as well as one chemical and hose unit.  The report also mentions South Williamsport's fire department that consisted of 50 volunteer firemen, motorized and two 750 gallon pumpers.
            The report also consisted of statistics or brief write ups about many community organizations still active today.  According to the report, the library cost $450,000 and contained 45,000 volumes.  The average annual loans made were 225,000 volumes.  The Williamsport Hospital had a total of 275 beds, "75 of which are free" (I am not sure what they meant but perhaps they were at no charge to patients who could not afford a hospital stay?).  The patients were attended to by a staff of 24 physicians and surgeons.  There was also a private hospital, the Rothfuss Clinic Hospital, which had 29 beds.
            The YMCA and YWCA were also mentioned and my guess is my friends at both of these organizations will chuckle at the description of the YMCA as a "modern five story building" and the YWCA as a "four story modern building built in July, 1929".  The cost was $475,000.  An important part of both Y's in 1929 was their bed capacity.  The YWCA could accommodate 92 guests and the YMCA was reported as having 130 beds.  The cost of the YMCA was $499,000.
            In 1929 there were seven theaters in Williamsport and you have to love the way they were described as "one combination legitimate-picture" with 1234 seats and "6 motion-picture theatres with total seating capacity of 7000."  Of course, "legitimate" theatre was stage productions.
            The city had one High School, three Junior High Schools and 16 grade schools that accommodated 268 teachers and 8664 students.  In addition, there were two Parochial Schools with 1004 students and one private school with 250 students as well as two Business Colleges.
            You will also be happy to know that in 1929 "all main thoroughfares are electrically lighted from the central power station of Pennsylvania Power and Light Co."

            That is just a brief snapshot of some of the information contained in the Williamsport Chamber of Commerce's Annual Report for 1929.  It is interesting to see how much has changed and what really hasn't changed all that much.  The old now was once bright and shiny new and things we take for granted now such as street lighting were not all that common years ago.  However, one thing that has not changed is that the business community, through the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, is still working to improve our community and make it a better place to live, work and play.