Commercial Club of Terre Haute
Dates:  1899-1912
Accession Number: Sm. D.C. 39B
Description: Four file folders in a document case; Map Drawer 10



The Commercial Club of Terre Haute, the predecessor organization to the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, was formed in March 1899 with 282 paying members.  The purpose of the Commercial Club was to, “promote the manufacturing, commercial and general business interests of the City of Terre Haute, Vigo County, Indiana and vicinity.”   

The Commercial Club encountered difficulties in remaining a viable organization literally from its inception in 1899 until 1913 when it reorganized as the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce.  According to several of the Club's annual reports, a city of Terre Haute's size should have had a membership of 600 individuals.   However, at its first meeting to form the Club, only 307 individuals signed the membership roll and 25 of those individuals never paid their dues.  By the end of the first year the Commercial Club's membership dropped even further to 247 members. 

The Club's bylaws were another problem, allowing for elections only when a board member died or resigned.  Very few members had resigned or died during the club's first decade in existence.  Eventually, in 1911, a group of members, dissatisfied with the status quo and calling themselves a “progressive movement”, sent a broadside to their fellow members announcing their intention of nominating an “independent” ticket of officers to run against the incumbent board of directors.  Their purpose was, “to enliven interest” in the Club out of the belief that, “the general membership is not taken into the confidence of the management that has caused hundreds of good citizens to resign from the club”. 

Matters approached the crisis stage in 1912 and 1913.  The Commercial Club's fourteenth annual report, issued in March 1913, documented a number of recent problems that had prompted, “a complete change in management for the first time”.    First, the Club's membership had dropped from 375 in January 1912 to 330 in December 1912 and, “for two years there has been no effort made to increase the membership”.  Early in 1911, “the membership swelled to 420; but none of these was required to subscribe for stock, and nearly all of them have since dropped out.”

A second problem, the Commercial Club's failure to increase employment opportunities by attracting new industries, caused considerable dissatisfaction among Terre Haute's citizenry.  The report explained that in 1899, when the Commercial Club was organized, the country was in an economic depression.  At this time there was no competition from other cities so Terre Haute was able to pay the bonuses demanded by companies before they would consider moving to a locality.  By 1913, “the high bonus paying era came in; the promoter created himself and factories desiring a new location have gone to the highest bidder.”  Terre Haute's Commercial Club was unable to attract investors to contribute to the now exorbitant bonuses or to help defray costs for machinery upgrades or in helping prospective businesses in paying off debt.   

In concentrating on bringing new businesses to Terre Haute, the Commercial Club's leadership had overlooked the spread of government and election corruption, the widespread violation of laws against liquor, gambling and prostitution , and exorbitant increases in utility rates. 

In an attempt to resolve these problems and increase membership, the Commercial Club first decided to adopt the “Guarantee Plan” in which members were only required to make pledges of money in credit, not in cash paid ahead of time.  The plan had also been adopted and worked successfully in the cities of Erie, Pennsylvania; Sioux City, Iowa; and Rockford, Illinois.   

Second, the Club launched a membership drive in 1913 based on forming a new organization that would expand beyond the sole emphasis on commercial gain to an organization that would also promote civic improvement by eliminating the rampant government corruption, enforcing the law, and reducing utility rates.  The drive succeeded in adding 250 new members.

At the April 15, 1913 meeting to celebrate the successful membership drive, the new and old members of the Commercial Club of Terre Haute resoundingly supported the transition into a chamber of commerce.   In his inaugural address to the newly formed Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, President Spencer Ball, perhaps referring to the Progressive political movement acknowledged that, “a tremendous but peaceful revolution is growing with the awakening of the citizens to the rights of self-government and opportunities of expanding commercialism.  The wave is sweeping the nation and Terre Haute is to be included.”  Ball called for the members  to, “get together, whole-hearted, shoulder to shoulder, hand to hand . . . in a Chamber of Commerce.”

Adolph Herz, chairman of the finance committee,  who was introduced by Ball as the father of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce idea, received a prolonged standing ovation when he told his fellow members that it was “my highest ambition” to see a building in Terre Haute with the words ‘chamber of commerce' over the door.”

Content and Scope of Collection 

This collection consists of annual reports, correspondence and newspaper clippings.

Document Case





Folder 1

Annual reports

1902, 1904
1906, n.d.




Folder 2

Annual reports

1907, 1908




Folder 3


1899-1912; n.d.






ca. 1899




Folder 4

 “Terre Haute Commercial Club's Progressive
  Movement” (broadside announcing slate of
   independents to run for a new board of directors)











Map Drawer 10

“What's the Matter with the Commercial
  Club” - reprint of article in the Saturday