Having thus chosen our course, without guile and with pure purpose,
let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear and with manly hearts.
Even as the St. Louis Junior Chamber of Commerce continued to grow, both in terms of membership and importance in the community, some members had bigger plans in mind. By October 23, 1919, Henry Giessenbier was leading a committee to call a caucus for the formation of a national Junior Chamber.
St. Louis members had enthusiastically spread the news of their organization while off to war and, as a result, questions began pouring in from all over the country about how to form similar groups. A pamphlet describing the “St. Louis Plan” was sent in response and caucus invitations were issued to all existing young men’s groups. When the proceedings opened in St. Louis on January 21, 1920, 30 cities were represented. With the adopting of a provisional constitution until a convention could be held in June, and the election of officers, the national Junior Chamber movement was born.
The caucus-adopted constitution permitted wide latitude for member groups in regard to age of members and the name of their organizations. Names varied greatly from the Strollers Club and the Young Men’s Business Club of New Orleans to the Under Forty Division of the Detroit Board of Commerce. Some clubs accepted men in their 40s, while others welcomed teenagers. These points would cause controversy and debate for years to come.
Giessenbier won election as provisional president of The U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce (USJCC) by acclamation, and was joined by other officers from St. Louis; El Paso and Dallas, Texas; Terre Haute, Indiana; and Springfield, Massachusetts.
From its spacious new headquarters, arranged through the efforts of Clarence Howard, the fledgling USJCC began testing its wings with Giessenbier traveling to other cities to gain additional support before the convention in June. Howard and Giessenbier garnered a big boost in April with the endorsement of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. Even U.S. President William Howard Taft weighed in, saying, “I think every movement of young men organized effectively to promote training in good citizenship and the study of all civic, commercial and industrial problems is to be encouraged. I hope you will succeed.”
The First Convention of The USJCC had more influence on Junior Chamber history than any until, arguably, the May 1938 Ohio Plan restructuring the organization of the 1984 Special Meeting on the issue of female membership. The host city, St. Louis, had excellent railroad connections which made it an accessible convention site for representatives from 41 cities.
Giessenbier’s long convention address clearly outlined the ideal Junior Chamber program and listed specific areas of involvement. On the community level, he suggested programs to deal with the promotion of safety in all phases of life, the development of park and recreational facilities, the improvement of housing conditions, the Americanization of foreign immigrants, the promotion of all kinds of educational programs, and the study of public markets. National problems he thought deserved attention were the improvement of conditions for the farmer and better rural-urban relations in general, as well as the backing of government expenditure for the development of America’s inland waterways.
The first constitution, adopted with little bickering, called for a weak federation of Junior Chambers to increase interchapter cooperation and add to the efficiency, growth and expansion of the movement. The founders also expressed hope that as the organization grew, it would become “the voice of young men in America.”
The delegates chose the provisional officers from the January caucus to serve full one-year terms, including first president Giessenbier; added vice presidents from Arkansas City, Kansas, and Belleville, Illinois; and named 12 directors to staggered terms from one to three years. A $25 charter fee was established which was not exceeded for decades. Annual dues for an individual were set at 25 cents, with each chapter paying a minimum of $25 and a maximum of $250 regardless of the number of members. Each chapter would designate one man as national counselor to stay in touch with other national counselors and exchange ideas.
The biggest debate at that first convention erupted over a battle between Springfield and Dallas to host the 1921 convention, setting the stage for similar battles in years to come. Dallas prevailed after 12 ballots, probably because the movement’s development in the New England area was slower than in the Southwest and Midwest.
Also setting a pattern for subsequent conventions, recreational attractions were not ignored. An opening night dance featured “an artificial moon and plenty of liquid refreshments to keep your whistle wet.” Delegates also attended a baseball game, toured industrial facilities and enjoyed a banquet at the Hotel Statler with the entire St. Louis Junior Chamber of Commerce.
By conventions end, 12 Chapters had paid their dues: Arkansas City, Kansas; Chicago; Elyria, Ohio; Kansas city, Missouri; St. Louis; Little Rock, Arkansas; Des Moines, Iowa; Dallas; New Orleans; Terre Haute, Indiana; Springfield, Massachusetts; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. As Former USJCC Historian Tom Campbell once noted, “The United States Junior Chamber of Commerce was officially on its way, with a bank balance of $48.21 and a million dollars worth of dreams.”
The meager funds belied the true health of the organization. Then, as today, the strength of the national organization was a reflection of the vitality of its member groups. The history of the movement shows that a bad year for national did not mean the chapters themselves were not having a banner year.
There were, however, significant challenges to be met by Giessenbier and the new USJCC. Since his elected secretary lived in Indiana, he naturally relied on his friend Andy Mungenast, the paid secretary for the St. Louis Junior Chamber, for much of the work to secure more member chapters. Mungenast is credited as a key figure in holding the national group together during its first five years.
With no travel budget, Giessenbier’s administration added 14 chapters to the original dozen. He borrowed $1,400 – a major sum for him in those days – and then loaned it all to help the movement progress. There is no record that he ever was repaid.
It is surprising, decades after the fact, that despite Giessenbier’s vision and obvious dedication, he failed to secure re-election at the at the second national convention. But those in attendance had sound reasons to reject the recommendation of the nominating committee and elect George Wilson of the host city, Dallas, as president. They felt it was important not to set a precedent for customary re-election. Also, Wilson was an accomplished speaker and had led the strong Dallas Junior Chamber to enthusiastically back the national organization.
Wilson was gracious in victory, saying, “There is no town or hamlet in the United States that knows patriotism or Americanism but which has heard of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and of Henry Giessenbier, the man who has done more for the progress of the organization.”
A torrid 26-ballot fight to choose Indianapolis as the 1922 convention city resulted in yet another loss for Springfield. The conclave also voted to endorse citizens military training camps, closer cooperation between “junior” and “senior” chambers, and assistance to disabled veterans.
In the flush of excitement over the growing national organization, delegates pledged to raise $16,000 to cover an ambitious 1921-22 budget. Unfortunately, only one chapter, Arkansas City, paid its pledge in the following year and Wilson’s plans and accomplishments fell well short as a result. He did the best he could under trying conditions, even spending $1,000 of his own money, but the number of chapters dropped from 36 to between 18 and 25 by the end of his term.
Perhaps because of the adversity, the 1922 convention in Indianapolis was greeted with enthusiasm. “J.C.s,” ever optimistic, believed their fervent oratory could still bring about a strong and workable organization despite the fact it almost had died aborning. The continued urging and financial support of Clarence Howard earned him the title of first honorary president. With Raymond T. Wilber, pioneer of the Springfield club, elected as the third president, and Milwaukee selected as the next convention site, the Junior Chamber movement was itching to move forward once again.
The road would not be an easy one to travel. Saddled with a substantial inherited debt of an estimated $3,000, Wilber’s best efforts would staunch the outflow of funds, clear up the bookkeeping, and leave the organization no worse off financially by year’s end. Instead of the normal shift of the headquarters to the president’s city, he was convinced by Howard to move to St. Louis where he could work more closely with active such as Mungenast and his assistant, Harry Krusz.
The Junior Chamber concept was slowly gaining footholds in many sections of the country, with half of the chapters having been organized in cooperation with senior chamber locals. One of Wilber’s goals was to improve relationships with the senior chambers and he came nearer to working out a close alliance than any administration for many years. Members balked, however, over senior chamber recommendations that it would make the determination if a Junior Chamber group was desirable in a given city and that programs would be subject to its review. Although “J.C.s” were willing to make compromises to gain the full backing of the older body, no formal agreement ever materialized.
By the end of 1923, the organization had 22 affiliated Junior Chambers of Commerce and 23 other non-affiliated chapters. The first big nationally endorsed program was a Get Out the Vote campaign modeled after a successful plan by the Milwaukee Junior Chamber. Mimeographed news bulletins, which also discussed fundamental questions of policy, management problems and new ideas, were sent out frequently by Harry Krusz in the first regular attempt to “service” locals.
By the time the 1923 convention opened in Milwaukee, the organization’s debt of more than $2,000 still was a primary concern. With a $441 assist from Clarence Howard, the money was raised from the convention floor and the new administration of Harry B. Mortimer of Milwaukee was able to start with $225 in the bank.
Mortimer had a hard-working cabinet that included two other Milwaukee members. Along with collecting dues and answering questions from the locals, they focused on expansion and added eight new chapters to the fold, including the New York City Young Men’s Board of Trade, led by Bob Condon.
Local projects showed both imagination and vitality. American Elms were planted along a mile of the Dallas-Fort Worth highway by the Dallas chapter. While the Atlanta group established a psychopathic ward in the city hospital, Chicago members ran a campaign they hoped would put a flower box in every local window. In San Antonio, the Junior Chamber ran the Texas Open Golf Tournament, the San Diego organization sponsored a $30,000 project, and Americanization was the chief concern in Indianapolis. Everywhere, young men were demonstrating their abilities to accomplish worthwhile and necessary undertakings.
When delegates gathered in Cincinnati for the fifth convention in 1924, the mood was decidedly improved over that of a year earlier. The books were in good order and the organization was “on the grow” again. The father of the Junior Chamber movement in California, Lou Arland of San Diego, was elected president, but poor health and other personal problems sidelined “the greatest orator of his day” early in his term.
He asked First Vice President Andy Mungenast to take over the presidency, but Mungenast refused to let Arland officially leave his post. Instead, as an impressive favor, Mungenast assumed almost all the duties of running the organization from St. Louis without the honor of the presidential title. Arland was to die before the “Roaring Twenties” whimpered into ruin with the stock market crash of 1929.
Mungenast and Harry Krusz set their sights in 1925 on establishing state organizations that could efficiently form new locals in their states. Missouri, Florida and, possibly, Oklahoma responded by banding their locals together while Michigan prepared to take the step in 1926.
Noteworthy among the many prestigious chapter achievements was a campaign led by Milwaukee members that led to a $1.5 million federal hospital being located in the city. Good work, on a grassroots level, was enhancing the strength and reputation of the movement nationwide.
Tulsa played host to the 1925 convention after members innovatively raised funds by raffling a $9,500 home. For the fourth time in six years, a host city nominee earned the presidential post. E. Fred Johnson beat Andy Mungenast despite Mungenast support from St. Louis, Chicago and the nominating committee. Johnson took over an organization that was finally out of debt, boasted a membership of 8,541 and had 45 affiliated chapters as well as another 30 Junior Chambers that did not belong to the national organization.
He addressed the challenge of converting these independent groups by stepping up services and communications, making USJCC affiliation too valuable to pass up. Immediately after his election, he called a meeting in St. Louis to initiate a first-class national magazine. Nearly 5,000 subscriptions, at $1 a year, were sold before the first issue appeared in September 1925.
Johnson had a flair for public relations and introduced the slogan, “Where the Young Man Steps In,” for his term in office, although it was used into the 1930’s. National publicity boomed with sponsored radio programs on the Junior Chamber, articles about The USJCC in the Civilian and Kiwanis magazines, and speeches by various officers to influential groups.
The first mass get-together of the board of directors, executive committee and national councilors outside of the convention took place at a mid-winter meeting in Indianapolis. The conference, like those in following years, was a serious affair with “fun and fellowship” relegated to secondary roles. It was here that the first nationally initiated USJCC program, Know America First, was established.
Johnson viewed Know America First as a “more all-inclusive proposition” to the travel-stimulating See America First program. He charged that Americans, and Junior Chamber members in particular, should learn “the privileges and opportunities accorded them by citizenship” in order to prepare “ to discharge intelligently the commensurate obligations.”
With dues raised a dime to 35 cents a member, more $25 charter fees flowing in, and a monthly stipend of $200 from the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, he was able to hire a secretary and cover basic office expenses. Bob Condon, who would be elected to succeed Johnson, further fattened the coffers by developing and selling $25 sustaining memberships. Through the years, high expectations periodically were placed in such donations, but success never was dramatic.
Since it was felt at the time that only cities with a population over 10,000 were ideal for chapters, Johnson sent out survey letters to 700 of them and learned that many were planning to join the Junior Chamber soon. A prolific communicator, he also issued another 4,000 letters in general correspondence.
The Junior Chamber idea now was being communicated in England and Canada, marking the beginnings of what would grow into a worldwide movement.
Meanwhile, on the local level, chapters were continuing to amass an impressive array of accomplishments. In East St. Louis, Illinois, the Junior Chamber managed to ensure that a national highway would not be detoured from the city by bringing about the construction of a $500,000 subway tunnel to eliminate a dangerous rail crossing. In Flint, Michigan, members conducted a clean-up campaign that collected 7 million pounds of trash in just one week. And the Los Angeles chapter began its Los Angeles Open Golf tournament, which remained a major stop on the golf circuit for decades.
By the time the annual convention began in Jacksonville, Florida, there were 28 new Junior Chamber chapters and more than 9,000 individual members. About 1,000 were present in Jacksonville to enjoy entertainment that ranged from swimming and boat rides to a golf tournament and dances. Condon, the smooth-talking aviation advocate from New York, easily won election as president. The organization was set to soar, in more ways than one.
The sense of adventure and newness that surrounded the field of aviation in 1926 made it a natural national project for the USJCC to tackle under Condon’s enthusiastic direction. With the endorsement of governmental and private aeronautical societies, Junior Chamber chapter quickly began working toward the establishment of airports. They also endeavored to properly mark airports with city names in 50-foot-high gravel letters, often adding the letters “J.C.” to call attention to the organization’s role.
The nation’s first marked airport was at Dayton, Ohio, where the chapter quickly earned the nickname “Flying Junior Chamber” for its contributions to aviation and its formation of a flying club.
Two additional national programs launched under Condon’s watch were reforestation and Get Out The Vote. Committees also were established for publicity and radio, foreign affairs, and legal aid to fight loan sharks and establish legal aid clinics. The practice of coordinating these committees fell increasingly into the hands of national vice presidents, while policy committees reported directly to the president.
Innovative chapter programs continued to attract attention throughout the country, including providing hurricane disaster relief efforts in Florida, combating the industrial “smoke menace” in Greenville, South Carolina, and serving as probation guardians for wayward boys in Pontiac, Michigan.
The movement also was being elevated by famous men who were members, but even baseball great Roger Hornsby of the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Governor-elect Dan Moody couldn’t overshadow the most famous member of all, Charles A. Lindbergh. His historic New York-to-Paris solo flight in the spring of 1927 earned him the admiration of the world and helped to usher in the age of commercial aviation fellow Junior Chamber members were working so hard to establish. In December, he was selected as Time magazine’s inaugural Man of the Year.
It was Condon who signed up Lindbergh as a Jaycee in 1925. They shared a wooden airport bench in Chicago while Lindbergh was waiting for the weather to change before taking off on his mail run to St. Louis. A national vice president at the time, Condon began telling the aviator about the Junior Chamber, how it was forming an aeronautical commission and that Lindbergh would be an asset to the organization. Lindbergh agreed and became a Jaycee.
When Condon relinquished his presidential gavel to H. Grady Vien of East St. Louis, Illinois, at the June 1927 Annual Meeting, he left behind 60 to 65 affiliated chapters and an organization proudly boasting several national programs. Vien’s adminstration got a big boost when the convention voted to increase dues from 30 cents to $1, a move that created a short-term opportunity as well as a bitter fight just a year later.
A good friend of Henry Giessenbier who had been with the movement since its first days, Vien knew the organization needed the services of a full-time executive secretary who could prepare many more “how-to” pamphlets and lend continuity to the headquarters operation. The first man he hired left after a few months and was replaced “temporarily” by Harry Krusz. Krusz, who probably knew more about the early history of the movement than any other man, stayed on for six years and had a significant impact for many years following.
The national programs started under the administrations of Johnson and Condon fully blossomed in 1927-28. Local projects continued to branch into new areas such as the Omaha, Nebraska, sponsorship of the National AAU Track and Field Meet, a prestigious sporting event. Atlanta members announced they would raise $200,000 for a golf course to honor the famed golfer Bobby Jones, a Junior Chamber member himself. The Birmingham, Alabama, chapter made possible the construction of Municipal Stadium by selling more than $100,000 worth of bonds. Detroit members promoted the use of air- mail, then in its infancy.
Meanwhile, several of the larger chapters were upset over the 70-cent increase in dues, believing members were not getting their money’s worth. Despite the hiring of a national executive secretary and a gradual increase in services from The USJCC, they took their fight in June to the floor of the 1928 annual convention, held in San Antonio. They were voted down and the chapters in Los Angeles, Chicago and Des Moines officially left the fold. Within a year, thanks to a dues cut to 50 cents and intense courting by new President Ernest Baetz and Executive Secretary Krusz, all three rejoined.
Ninth USJCC President Baetz, a banker from San Antonio, started his term in 1928 with a small deficit and ended it with a small surplus and all bills paid. He and Krusz traveled approximately 40,000 miles during the year, the most of any executives to that date. Krusz accompanied Baetz so the vital contacts made would not be lost when the president’s term of office was over. It is believed that this practice laid the groundwork for growth in succeeding years.
Because 1928 was a presidential election year, special emphasis was given to the two-year-old Get-Out-The-Vote campaign. The USJCC effort was an unqualified success. More than 36 million voters cast presidential ballots in 1928, an increase of 12 million over 1924’s turnout. Baetz reported in the December issue of Expansion, “The United States Junior Chamber of Commerce is the only national organization that conducted a systematic and planned campaign to educate the people of this country in their duty to vote.”
Aviation interest around the country continued to benefit from extensive Junior Chamber involvement. The St. Louis chapter was the first group to lend its support to a proposed $2 million airport and was cited as one of the keys to success of that bond issue’s passage. Along with promoting airport construction, many chapters formed flying clubs, promoted airmail usage and marked towns for easy identification from the air.
A strong believer in the importance of aviation to the wealth and stability of the nation was famed pilot and Junior Chamber member Walter Hinton. In 1919, as a member of the U.S. Navy, he and a crew of five piloted the first flying machine to cross the Atlantic Ocean. A few years later, he made the first air voyage between the Americas, going from New York to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was Hinton who, in May 1929, addressed approximately 2 million Americans over the NBC Blue (radio) Network as part of the first-ever National Junior Chamber Week.
The USJCC had regrown to about 60 chapters by the end of Baetz’ term and was rapidly maturing into a well-structured organization, capable of supplying an array of important services to its member groups. Almost $600 remained from an $8,000 budget and another fine year of expansion would come in the year ahead.
So would an event that would rock financial markets around the world and force the Junior Chamber to tighten its belt for several years – even as it continued to generate a profound influence.