Manatee chamber to celebrate milestone

November 5, 2012 

Fall is in the air and at this time of year many businesses and organizations are wrapping up 2012 while making strategic decisions for 2013.

In looking ahead, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce has begun to plan for a very important milestone. We will be celebrating our 125th anniversary in 2014.

The chamber began as the Bradenton Board of Trade, with adopted by-laws and a constitution, on June 29, 1889. While our name has changed several times over more than a century, our mission's roots are consistent and deep.

In addition to the Bradenton Board of Trade, the years have seen a County Board of Trade, a Bradentown Board of Trade and a Palmetto Chamber formed in the late 1890s through the 1920s. The Bradenton Chamber of Commerce -- which began in 1925 -- merged with the Palmetto Chamber in 1962 to ultimately become today's county-wide Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

You may be wondering what significance all this has in the greater evolution of our community. More important than mere dates or historical consequence are the leaders, events and issues that motivated and molded these chambers and boards of trade.

More than 100 years ago, were these organizations, through their business leadership, any different in how they resolved community needs and problems? What were their accomplishments? Were they any more or less important or courageous then than today? Was networking even a word in the 1920s? Any colorful characters?

Some may think with all of our meetings and more meetings that the daily routine of a chamber of commerce might be rather dull. To the contrary: A headline in the Aug. 16, 2012 Wall Street Journal says "Don't Yawn: Chambers of Commerce Are Really Quite a Kick -- They Helped Send Lindbergh to the Skies and Capone to the Slammer."

This article, highlighting next April's 100th year anniversary of the founding of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, documents headline-making accomplishments of chambers across the country as researched by Chris Mead, including:

n Charles Lindbergh had the costs of the Spirit of St. Louis plane's Trans-Atlantic flight underwritten by St. Louis Chamber leaders.

n Al Capone, the gangster (believed to have stayed in the ManateeRiver Hotel in downtown Bradenton at one time), had his downfall facilitated by damaging infor-mation shared by the Chicago Association of Commerce.

n The chamber in Atlantic City, N.J., created the Miss America pageant.

Mead, with the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, is authoring a book about chambers and the prominent business leaders who have contributed to chamber success across the country.

His research shows that every day, otherwise independent efforts at improving communities are coalesced and strengthened through chambers of commerce.

What interesting bits of history within our local chambers/boards of trade have made headlines? We still have more than a year to collect information from our community.

We will celebrate our beginnings and evolution and want the community to tell us about their family members and friends who have stories to share about the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and its past organizational history.

Here are a few local stories/tidbits already gathered:

n Networking or business card exchanges had a much different name in the '20s -- they were called "smokers" (source: Manatee River Journal).

n The Board of Trade helped bring Henry Plant and his railroad here in the late 1890s (source: Tampa Tribune).

n The first and only (at the time) Bradentown Board of Trade woman member was Mrs. I.F. Jones, who was given a lifetime membership in the organization (source: Tampa Tribune).

n The fair price of haircuts was taken to a committee to study within the Sarasota and Bradenton chambers in 1930 (source: Tampa Tribune).

n Earlier this summer, I celebrated my 30th year as president of our chamber. The chamber has enjoyed great leadership tenure and someone had surpassed my years as the appointed executive -- W.D. Manning was the top chamber executive, called secretary then instead of today's title of president, for the Bradenton Chamber of Commerce for 33 years.

Help us learn from the lessons of our own history and bygone days. Please share with us your knowledge and stories of people and businesses of earlier eras (such as the W.D. Mannings and I.F. Joneses) and their accomplishments and challenges. With your help we can better capture the depth and breadth of our roots.

It'll be quite a celebration in 2014!

Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, can be reached at 941-748-3411 or

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