James Rada Jr., Columnist
At the beginning of the 20th century, Cumberland was enjoying the fruits of the Industrial Revolution. As the nexus of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and the National Road, even if a business didn’t have a physical site in Cumberland, it probably did business in the city.
Between 1860 and 1910, Cumberland’s population grew by 200 percent. Both large and small businesses opened, and workers swarmed into the city to find work.
The Cumberland Chamber of Commerce was formed in early 1914. When the members met Feb. 26 to elect the chamber’s first slate of officers, the Cumberland Press reported, “The spirit manifested last night, marshalled and led by the strong corps of officers elected to govern the association cannot fail to accomplish great things for the future of Cumberland.”
The men served without pay. The only benefit they derived was when their efforts to improve the business climate in Cumberland helped them grow their own businesses. The Cumberland Daily News noted that by 1921, the chamber could be given credit for “much of the street improvement in Cumberland and particularly Baltimore Street. The lighting system of this street is directly due to the efforts of the Chamber.”
The chamber members unanimously elected Thomas Footer as its first president. Herman Billmyer, H. U. F. Flurshutz, John G. Lynn Jr., Tasker G. Lowndes, John S. McCauley, Susman Rosenbaum, Henry Shriver, Henry Vogel, Harry E. Weber and George Young were elected as the board of directors.
During the February meeting, the chamber also undertook deciding what its position would be on the sale of the equipment, stacks, buildings, gas lines and water lines of the old Queen City Glass Works. The business, owned by the Marten Brothers, had shut down recently due to a fire. James Conway, a former superintendent of Queen City Glass Works, and G. E. Fisher, a chemist and glassworker from Charleston, W. Wa., wanted to buy an option to purchase the property for $20,000 in the next five years. Once made operational, the plant would make amber glass bottles needed by breweries and employ 125 people with an annual payroll of $60,000.
The chamber looked at not only how the glass works would benefit, but that it would also benefit the city’s two breweries and a sand quarry on Wills Mountain. Another benefit was that the 125 employees would be in town buying goods and services that other Cumberland businesses sold. Many of the members were so supportive that they said that they would be willing to buy stock in the new glass company, but the plan was that it would be a privately held company. The chamber voted to support the effort at its next meeting.
It was the first of many successes by the chamber of commerce in bringing new business to the city. The Cumberland Daily News noted, “The great Kelly-Springfield Plant is here in Cumberland, and its presence is due entirely to the efforts exerted by the active members of the Chamber of Commerce. This industry not only furnished considerable prosperity in the city during construction period, but now that it is in operation, we are going to witness even a greater prosperity.”
Though industrial development was the chamber’s original mission, it soon expanded into other areas of business as needed. The Cumberland Times noted in 1922 that, “the modern Chamber of Commerce is in sympathetic touch, with every phase of community life, and ‘Community Service’ has been our slogan during the past years and indicates that the scope and spirit of the work has been in line with modern thinking.”
In its first years, the Cumberland Chamber of Commerce investigated stock-selling schemes, promoted a no-accident week for automobiles, investigated suspiciously high food prices in the city, worked to address the housing shortage in the rapidly growing city, helped survey the city and worked to reduce insurance rates in the city. All of which helped improve the quality of life for the city’s residents.