New York Chamber of Commerce Archives Come to Columbia University Libraries

NEW YORK, March 3, 2005 - Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library has received over 360 linear feet of materials documenting the history of the New York Chamber of Commerce. The archives track the history of the Chamber from its establishment in 1768 through 1973, when it merged with the Commerce and Industry Association (formerly the Merchants’ Association). In 1979 the Chamber joined ranks with the donor of the archives, the Partnership for New York City.

The archives, which will be accessible for research in approximately two years, offer an exceptional view of the civic activities, economic vision, and political philosophy of New York’s business leaders. New York Chamber of Commerce members helped mastermind the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Federal Reserve Bank, and New York’s subway system as well as undertaking major conservation initiatives, including the development of the Croton Water system and the regulation of clean air. The archives include the minutes of committees and general meetings, correspondence between the Chamber’s executive staff and similar organizations across the nation, and published and unpublished investigations of major problems facing New York City. Of particular interest are the records of arbitration cases that shed light on daily business operations in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

“The archives of the Chamber of Commerce are vitally important not only to New York history, but also to the history of commerce in the colonies and the United States,” said James Neal, Vice President of Information Services and University Librarian. “The records form a goldmine for scholars and historians alike, who are interested in the history and evolution of business in New York City.”

For two hundred years, the New York Chamber of Commerce was the most powerful businessman’s association in the United States. The Chamber was established by New York merchants in 1768 to deal with issues that ranged from currency (particularly the problem of the value of New Jersey’s paper money) to the inspection of commodities for export. In 1770, the Chamber received a royal charter from Queen Anne, making it one of only four institutions in colonial New York (including King’s College, later Columbia University) to hold this distinction.

More than half of the city’s mayors between 1872 and 1901 were members of the Chamber, including Seth Low, President of the Chamber from 1914 to 1916, who also served as President of Columbia University. In fact, many Columbia alumni were leaders of the Chamber of Commerce, including members of the Dodge family. Nicolas Butler, President of Columbia from 1902 to 1945, was also a favorite speaker at the Chamber’s annual banquets.

The Rare Book and Manuscript Library owns over 500,000 rare books in some 20 book collections and almost 28 million manuscripts in nearly 3,000 separate manuscript collections. It is particularly strong in English and American literature and history, classical authors, children's literature, education, mathematics and astronomy, economics and banking, photography, the history of printing, New York City politics, librarianship, and the performing arts. Individual collections are as eclectic as they are extensive. For additional information about the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, please call 212-854-5153.

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