Tuesday, February 3, 2009

This is the story of the merger of the Chamber of Commerce

Collections come to archivists in a variety of conditions and a wide range of sizes. Sometimes you are lucky--you find yourself facing a well organized, color coded filing system, complete with labels, guides, and dates. (Ok, I think you would have to be really lucky for that scenario to occur!) But more often than not, you find yourself staring down row upon row of disorganized chaos--spineless books, torn and folded papers, illegible handwriting, crumbling newspaper clippings, and the sticky residue of labels that have long since peeled away and disappeared. This is especially daunting if your collection's inventory, like ours, can best be described as "bare bones."

And so begins one of the core elements of an archivist's job--research. There are a seemingly endless amount of questions to be answered as an archivist attempts to make sense of the vast sea of records before her--everything from basic background research into an organization's history and significance to what makes up the duties of the Executive Committee to quarantine stations in New York in the 1800s to the regulation of usury laws. Since no definitive, in-depth histories of the NYCC have been written yet (which makes it especially compelling to researchers), Katie and I have had to do a lot of legwork trying to discern the story of the Chamber. Our biggest hurdle in conducting our research would have to have been figuring why we seemed to have the records of not only the NYCC but also the Merchants Association and the Commerce and Industry Association. Since the organizations were obviously similar in motive and ambition, we assumed it was only natural that each would have the publications and notices of the other; we were more confused by the fact that the NYCC collection contained so much material from the other two organizations, material that we imagined that those organizations should have wanted to keep themselves. Our confusion continued until we began coming across materials labeled, "MERGER."

And then of course, it all made sense.

It took us a while, but we were finally able to piece together a timeline for the evolution of the NYCC, up until it ceased to exist in 2002. I came up with this handy chart to explain the timeline for our presentation in November:

Mergers between the Chamber and other commercial organizations were under consideration as far back as the 1920s when the Chamber began losing members and influence. Our records indicate talk of a merger with the Commerce and Industry Association began sometime in the 1950s and continued throughout the 1960s, resulting in several extensive studies conducted by both organizations to assess the pros and cons.

Because we ended up with the records of both the NYCC and the CIA, we have documentation of the process from both sides, which I'm sure some enthusiastic research will have a fantastic time comparing.

By the time the NYCC officially merged with the New York City Partnership (a philanthropic organization formed by NYCC member David Rockefeller) to form the Partnership for New York City, the offices had long since moved out of its building on 65 Liberty Street, and its membership and administration had severely dwindled. The organization lived out its twilight years functioning more like a typical civic organization; long gone were the days of the Chamber's power and prestige.


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