History of the Chamber
The prominent merchants of 19th century Savannah organized the city’s first Chamber of Commerce at a meeting on December 13, 1806 at the City Exchange Building, a site now occupied by Savannah’s City Hall. Organizers appointed a committee of seven to draft a constitution for the government that would become the Chamber.
The committee reported back to the city’s businessmen on December 30, 1806, proposing 17 rules that included provisions calling for initial membership fees of five dollars, for membership to be open “only to merchants, traders, factors and insurance brokers;” and for fines for “officers refusing to serve after being elected.” The rules were unanimously agreed to by the 85 “subscribers” in attendance, making the Savannah Chamber of Commerce Georgia’s oldest professional organization and the seventh oldest Chamber in the United States.
Like in 1806, it has been the Chamber’s leadership that has paved the way for Savannah to thrive as a unified business front. Mostly a volunteer-based organization, the Chamber has benefited over the years from the expertise and influence of many of Savannah’s most prominent business people, both past and present. It has been the commitments made by the many Chamber volunteer leaders that have helped Savannah make its mark in the world.
The Savannah Chamber has been on the forefront of events that have shaped this community and impacted the world. Advances in business and technology made through Chamber support have reverberated throughout this community for more than 200 years. One of the most influential was the creation of a system of weights and measures in 1806 used to monitor and track shipping activity at the port of Savannah. The Savannah Chamber was on board early for the development of Savannah’s shipping and port activity. The Chamber’s leadership anticipated the importance that the ports would play on the growth and economic stability of Savannah.
One such port-related venture was Savannah Chamber’s backing of the 1819 maiden voyage of the S.S. Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. In only 29 days, the S.S. Savannah arrived in Liverpool, England, and the Port of Savannah appeared on the world’s shipping stage.
In 1945, the Chamber created the Industry Committee, which later absorbed into the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA). Today, the GPA operations, along with private-sector port-related operations, account for more than 295,000 jobs statewide, billions of dollars in revenue and income exceeding $10.8 billion annually.
The Chamber supported the Central of Georgia Railroad in 1841. The longest privately-owned railroad in the country at the time, the Central of Georgia operated for more than 136 years transporting area-grown products like cotton and pulp as well as passengers to and from central Georgia farms. The last train passed through the station in 1971, which now houses the Visitor Information Center.
In the 1920s, the Chamber created the Savannah Port Authority, now known as the Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA), to improve the standard of living in Chatham County. Today, SEDA provides professional site services and eases access to state and local resources.
Not only has the Chamber worked to better the business economy of Savannah, the organization has helped to improve community development as well. In the 1940s, the Chamber was instrumental in getting the President Street extension, connecting Savannah’s business district with outlying neighborhoods. The Chamber also aided the city in developing a public landfill and bringing in natural gas as a power option for industrial and domestic use.