History of the Wichita, Kansas Chamber of Commerce
From: History of Wichita and Sedgwick County, Kansas
Past and Present
O. H. Bentley, Editor-in-Chief
C. F. Cooper & Co. Publisher.
Chicago 1910


Cities are made for commerce. Some cities boast of their wealth; others of their splendid buildings and beautiful streets; others of the culture and refinement of their citizens, but the primary cause of all these congested knots of humanity, called cities, scattered everywhere over the face of the earth is commerce.

In every city of any considerable size this commerce in its various phases produces problems so large and numerous and varied that nothing short of a well organized body of business men can hope to successfully cope with them. Then, too, cities must be watched from a civic viewpoint as well as from the commercial side. The civic affairs of a city are better administered if the mayor and city commissioners or city council are conscious of being constantly under the watchful eye of an influential organization which has at all times a thumb on the public pulse, and which in itself constitutes a large part of that pulse. The growth of a city is also a matter of much importance. Every city wants to grow. Every city should grow. In the matter of bringing new industries to a city there is an absolute necessity for the well directed efforts of an organization of the resident business men of that city.

The Chamber of Commerce of the city of Wichita was organized in 1901 for the purpose of promoting the commercial and civic welfare of Wichita citizens and for the further purpose of making known to the world the exceptional advantages of that city as a commercial and industrial center and as a home city. Several different men lay claim to the distinction of starting the organization of this splendid body of business and professional men. Mr. J. M. Knapp was the first one to start out with a subscription list, however, and seems to be entitled to whatever credit may be due for starting the organization. The first president of the club was C. L. Davidson, who served for three years in that capacity; J. H. Stewart was the first vice president; James Allison, second vice president; L. S. Naftszger, treasurer, and M. W. Levy, secretary. Offices were opened in one of the basement rooms of the City building, which continued to be the headquarters of the club until early in the spring of 1906. George W. Smith succeeded Mr. Levy as secretary after the first year. He prepared a booklet which gave, in a concise way, many interesting facts regarding Wichita and containing a number of illustrations of the public buildings, colleges, park and street scenes, hotels, residences, etc. Fifty thousand of these booklets were printed and widely distributed.

The second man to serve as president of this club was J. E. Howard, who was followed by I. N. Hockaday, who was succeeded by George M. Dickson, whose last term expired January 1, 1910. O. A. Boyle was elected president for the year 1910, which brings us down to the date of this writing.

Early in the spring of 1906 the headquarters of the club were moved to the building at 133 North Market street, and a dining room and many social features were added. Drinking and card playing have never been allowed in the clubrooms, however, and this is a settled policy of the club, as the membership is largely made up of Christian gentlemen who will not countenance anything of that character. At the first meeting of the board of directors in the month of April, 1910, it was decided to lease new quarters on the tenth floor of the new Beacon building on South Main street, which will give them quarters not excelled by those of any commercial body in the West.

Since its inception the Chamber of Commerce has had at its head, both as officers and directors, men of the very highest character and ability, who have worked unitedly for the building up of their city and for the successful solving of its many and perplexing problems. In the assembly rooms of its present quarters many important questions touching the civic life of Wichita have been threshed over and definite working plans arrived at. Many enterprises, involving the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars, have been promoted there. Its rooms have at all times been freely opened to any organization, of whatever character, which was working for the advancement of the interests of Wichita and her citizens. Among the things which the Chamber of Commerce has done or aided in doing may be mentioned the following:

Bringing the Interstate Commerce Commission to Wichita to investigate the matter of unjust freight rates and discrimination in favor of other cities. This was largely due to the efforts of Mr. Davidson as president of the club and was the beginning of the fight for equitable freight rates, which is still going on at the present date. The Southwestern Fair Association was started by the Chamber of Commerce and for some time the headquarters of the fair were in the clubrooms. This annual exposition of farm products has contributed in no small degree to the development of Sedgwick county agriculture, and it has also been an occasion of profitable and much needed recreation.

Largely through the efforts of this club, natural gas for fuel and light was piped from the gas belt farther east. This cheap fuel gas has been a potent factor in the matter of securing new industrial enterprises for Wichita and the Chamber has seen to it that the manufacturing world was made aware of this great convenience. Probably no other one thing has done so much for the industrial side of Wichita.

The Beacon building enterprise, although a private one, was started in the Chamber of Commerce by Chamber of Commerce men. This "tallest building in Kansas" is strictly a home enterprise and was built by home capital. Mr. Henry J. Ellen, editor of the Beacon and prime mover in the enterprise, was vice president at the time he started the building company.

The Arkansas Valley Interurban Railway, organized and managed by O. A. Boyle while president of the club, is another instance of the really great and beneficial enterprises having their inception in the minds of Chamber of Commerce men, and being fashioned from the first crude idea into a splendid realization by them. The few instances given will show the character of the Chamber of Commerce and its work for Wichita. They will also serve to show the great value to any city of an organization of this kind as a clearing house of civic and commercial ideas.

Nothing is too large and nothing is too small to elicit the interest of the Wichita Chamber of Commerce. In fact, it is a most democratic body, whose sole object is to be of the greatest use possible to the largest number of Wichita citizens. In a nutshell, the Chamber of Commerce is an institution that is ready to espouse the cause of any person or any company or any institution when their interests are identical with the growth and prosperity of Wichita. "Watch Wichita win" is the motto of the Chamber of Commerce and no institution in the city is doing more to "help Wichita win."

The Chamber of Commerce is composed of 350 members, who are mostly engaged in the retail business establishments. However, there are many bankers, lawyers, physicians and manufacturers numbered among the membership. The clubrooms at 133 North Market street form a most popular meeting place for business men, for committees, small business gatherings, luncheons and banquets. It will move into the new Beacon building in the fall. Ten years ago the Wichita Chamber of Commerce was a rather small and insignificant institution. At times it did efficient work in securing freight rate adjustments, but it was not a very lively factor in Wichita commercial life. But this apathy was thrown off and the club began to spread out, to gather in new, vigorous members and to liven up the city. The gloomy quarters in the basement of the city hall were given up and roomy club parlors secured in North Market street. The lunch and game room features were added, while the membership immediately swelled. Not only that, but the scope of the organization was enlarged and much was done for the good of the city.

Popular open meetings are held for the club membership from time to time during the winter months. At these meetings subjects of general interest to the city are discussed. Recently the Chamber of Commerce took the initiative step to find out the physical valuation of the city water plant. When there was a campaign to vote bonds for a new auditorium and a new high school the Chamber of Commerce championed the causes valiantly. Many new factories and other industries have come to Wichita from other places during the past few years through the influence and assistance of the Chamber of Commerce. Much literature and thousands of letters, telling of the city's advantages, are mailed out every year by the club secretary. At the head of this live commercial organization is O. A. Boyle, one of the foremost boosters of the city. Mr. Boyle was elected president of the club at the beginning of this year. During the last half of 1909 Mr. Boyle was secretary of the Chamber

John L. Stingley, secretary of the club, is another "live wire." Mr. Stingley is working all the time and in four months of his incumbency he has accomplished many important tasks. The other officers of the Chamber of Commerce are: Paul Brown, vice president, and V. H. Branch, treasurer. The board of directors meets regularly every month for the consideration of all sorts of business. Frequently there are called meetings to meet an emergency. The directors are: E. T. Battin, R. E. Bird, O. A. Boyle, V. H. Branch, Paul Brown, R. B. Campbell, H. W. Darling, T. M. Deal, G. M. Dickson, J. H. Graham, C. H. Matson, J. N. Haymaker, R. L. Holmes, John Kelley, Henry Lassen, M. A. McClellan, M. M. Murdock, Dr. E. M. Palmer, O. A. Rorabaugh, H. J. Roetzel, W. T. Rouse, W. E. Stanley, J. L. Stingley, A. Van Zandt and Otto Weiss. The executive committee is composed of the following men: G. M. Dickson, W. F. McCullough, John L. Stingley, M. M. Murdock and R. L. Holmes.


The Chamber of Commerce is one of the newer institutions of Wichita, of which its members and the city at large are justly proud.

It was organized in the year 1901 and was the outgrowth of a party of men who had at heart both the material and moral good of the city. They desired not only a greater Wichita, but a better Wichita. Not only a greater and better Wichita, but a closer bond of companionship and fellowship among those who were striving to make it greater and better. With these ends in view commodious and accessible quarters were procured at the city building and afterward at No. 133 North Market street. The rooms are furnished in a neat and attractive manner at an expense of several thousand dollars; a good cafe was established; the spirit and purpose of the organization was made known to the public, and the enterprise was launched under favorable auspices. The response was immediate. Within one month from its opening it had 250 members. Its presidents have been successively, C. L. Davidson, J. H. Stewart, J. E. Howard, I. N. Hockaday, George M. Dickson and 0 A Boyle. Its prime object as indicated by its name is the promotion of the commerce, growth and advancement of the city. To this end its committees have been organized and its energies in a large measure directed. Many and notable have been the efforts made by this body for the securing of new enterprises for Wichita, the extension of its trade through tributary territory, the securing of advantages to business already established in the way of more favorable freight rates, and others of like kind, and many have been the successes achieved. Not a forward step has been taken by our city along the line of business growth and development without its help, encouragement and good will, but, as before indicated, its aims and purposes have not been material and mercenary only; they have been moral and social as well.

Ever since its organization the Chamber of Commerce has been the business social center, or the social business center of the city. Scarcely a week has passed without a banquet of some kind within its hospitable walls. Business organizations a various kinds looking toward the advancement and promotion of business interests; public organizations of various kinds looking toward municipal growth and improvement; civic organizations of various sorts looking toward the general good of our people, city and state, all have been welcomed here and all have availed themselves of its generous hospitality, excellent cuisine, sympathetic atmosphere and friendly help. It has been the civic center from which has radiated good influences in every direction.

The spirit and genius of the organization is truly democratic. While it numbers among its members many of the most substantial business men of the city, yet the young man of character and aspiration is just as welcome to its membership as the wealthiest man in the city, and receives the same consideration. It recognizes the truth that, "The rank is but the guinea's stamp, a man's a man for a' that." While liquors have always been strictly barred from its portals and liquid conviviality is unknown, yet innocent games are encouraged, such as chess, checkers, pool and billiards, and a feeling of coinradarie and good fellowship characterizes its members from the oldest to the youngest, from the richest to the poorest. O. A. Boyle, one of the most progressive and successful of Wichita's young business men, is its efficient president and John Stingley its popular secretary.

Its present condition is most flourishing. It is out of debt, has money in the treasury and has taken in about seventy five new members during the present year. The outlook for the future is most encouraging. On October 1 it will move to its new location, on the tenth floor of the Beacon building, and a more beautiful, more sightly, better arranged and more appropriate location could scarcely be obtained or desired. Its aims for the future are in keeping with its high and beautiful location: to make Wichita ever a bigger and better city and its members bigger, better and happier men.

About October 1, 1910, the Wichita Chamber of Commerce, the junior commercial body of Wichita, moved to their splendid new quarters in the Beacon block on South Main street. This club has accomplished great good for the town since the organization of the same, and has promoted and assisted many of the best enterprises of the town. The Wichita Chamber of Commerce has rented large and very spacious quarters on the tenth floor of the new Beacon block and their lease runs for a term of years.

On the evening of September 23 they had their last rally in the old quarters. A delightful banquet was served to about 200 men. A splendid spirit of harmony prevailed, an all around talk lest was indulged in, and the underlying current was that the town was "safe and sane." The future was discussed and the past was reviewed. The ways and means committee reported that it would take in the neighborhood of $1,600 to move the club to the new quarters and start all matters off right. This amount was raised at this meeting in half an hour, a large number of those present subscribing $25 each. The speeches made and the spirit of the club as manifested showed a most hopeful outlook for the future of Wichita. - Editor.

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