A hundred years ago, in 1919, Illinois, America and the world were changing in every way. World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, and Congress recognized womens’ right to vote.
Prohibition became the law of the land, the genius Einstein’s theory of general relativity was confirmed, and you could buy a pound of butter for about 65 cents. Business and technology were booming. The Radio Corporation of America was formed, the first dial telephones were installed and the practice of “cross-selling” was added to the English dictionary.
There were also dark times. The gambling “Black Sox” disgraced America’s pastime and race riots tore businesses, families and Chicago apart, raising awareness of African Americans’ struggles throughout the country.
In 1919, amid a flurry of change and choice, 24 industry leaders from around the state gathered together in Quincy to figure out how to best promote and protect the business climate in Illinois. As a result, on August 2, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce was officially chartered by the Secretary of State, uniting the voices of Illinois business.
The Chamber was active from the start as the major force behind the formation of the Illinois State Police and the State Planning Commission. We drafted a resolution to President Roosevelt urging him to, “make available to the Allies the untold resources of our nation,” a year-and-a-half before Pearl Harbor and experienced a massive post-WWII growth in the 1950s.
Always advocates for improving our education system, the Chamber led the effort to establish a State Board of Education in the 1960s and formed the first business political action committee in Illinois in the 1970s.
We pushed for sales tax reform in the 1980s, selected our first female president and garnered support for NAFTA in the 1990s, and led the fight against the 50 percent income tax increase and new service tax in the early 2000s. Over the last decade, we have focused on lowering property taxes, improving workforce opportunities, and promoting pro-business reforms throughout the state.
A lot has changed in a century, bur our core principles and commitment to our members remain steadfast. We are encouraged by all those who fought for business policies that work before us, and we will continue that fight to make Illinois a better place for all those who will come after us.
As a new governor is now in our mansion and an exceedingly large freshman class has taken their seats in our statehouse, our efforts, and yours, are needed more than ever.
Whatever the future holds for us in Illinois, know that every day, in every battle, we are fighting for you. Cheers to our 100th new year and to stronger business and a stronger Illinois in the next century.