History of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce

Through the activities below that include International Trade, Education, Environment, Transportation, Advocacy, and Arts and Culture, the Chamber has demonstrated a long-standing leadership role in the Los Angeles community that continues today. 


The Chamber has championed the needs of the business community and the citizens it serves through a period of raw, brilliant boosterism to a continuing era of sophisticated, national influence. In 1888, the founding members of the Chamber created the organization to function as a vehicle to attract new business to California. 

In 2013, the Chamber was proud to celebrate its 125th Anniversary. Since its inception, the work of the Chamber has taken on many forms, all in an effort to ensure economic prosperity and quality of life for the Los Angeles area. For an overview of the Chamber goals, the path to achieving them and the opportunities at hand, and to learn more about the Chamber's anniversary, visit: Celebrating 125 Years.  


Population Loss:

Los Angeles experienced dramatic population losses during the late 1880s. 1,000 people each month left the city, which caused the cities population to fall from an 1880 high of 70,000 to nearly 50,000. This exodus generated significant effects on the local economy, and there was sudden realization of the need for an effective agency to dismiss doubts and reinvigorate the courage of the citizens. On Oct. 10, 1888, a group of men joined together to formulate plans for overcoming the reverses the city had suffered. The founding officers of the new Chamber of Commerce were business leaders Maj. Edward W. Jones, William W. Workman, Col. Harrison G. Otis, Samuel B. Lewis, J.I. Redick and Thomas A. Lewis. 

A Plan:

Early Chamber members formulated two objectives: stimulate migration and to market the area's products in other parts of the country. They decided to attract Midwestern farmers to Los Angeles because of their proven agricultural expertise. The Chamber undertook an ambitious expedition called "California on Wheels." A railroad car outfitted with agricultural products of the state visited every town of importance in the Midwest and South. During its two- year tour, over a million passed through the exhibit doors and took home materials created by the chamber.

Frank Wiggins, the superintendent of events, conceived of the idea and pushed to feature California agricultural products at large national and international exhibitions, attracting nationwide fame to Los Angeles. Wiggins conceived of larger than life sized walnut elephant for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. 850 pounds of unusually large California walnuts covered a wire framework to create the animal. It achieved lasting fame for the city and the Chamber. Displays like the elephant demonstrated that Southern California offered more than climate, but that it produced a variety of marketable items.

Other Ideas for Making L.A. an Attraction:

In addition to exhibitions, the Chamber encouraged grass roots investments in several manufacturing enterprises. Beet sugar manufacture benefited from technological advancements that encouraged its growth. By the end of the century local factories produced 15,000 tons of sugar per year valued at $1,300,000. These industries received a boost with the discovery of oil and the introduction of electric power generated from water. The chamber attracted aircraft manufacturing in 1920 through its support of international air meets at Dominguez field and communication of meteorological information that made flights safer for pilots. The local livestock market received a boost when the Chamber collaborated with Chicago entrepreneurs in 1921 to create an area called the Central Manufacturing District and Los Angeles Junction Railway.

Post World War II:

After World War II, the Chamber transitioned from organization that sought to attract new business to Los Angeles County into one that now worked to address modern issues associated with a major metropolitan center. The organization converted from a county-sponsored organization to a private business organization funded solely by its members. Its advocacy efforts started to include issues that also affected the four other surrounding counties. In 1967, the Chamber changed its name to the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.


International Trade:

To realize its dream of becoming an important commercial center, Los Angeles needed a deep-water harbor. To open the campaign, the Chamber presented a resolution to Congress, and invited all interested representatives and senators to visit Los Angeles and the proposed harbor site, San Pedro. Chamber members even took a Senate committee on a boat tour of the area to convince them of the great need for a harbor.

In 1890, the federal government sent army engineers to complete plans for the harbor. The railroads, however, were intent on keeping a monopoly on rail service to the shipping center, and wanted Santa Monica to be the harbor site.

The Free Harbor League, formed in 1895, joined the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce in successfully lobbying for the San Pedro site, which was secured in 1899. Work on the San Pedro breakwater began in April of 1899 and was celebrated with long speeches, band music and a barbecue. It was a triumph for the Chamber, which can be partially attributed to the Chamber's forethought in establishing resident representation in Washington, D.C. The Los Angeles Harbor was finished in 1910 and four years later, the Panama Canal opened, permanently altering the world shipping industry.

In 1923, the Trade Extension Department of the Chamber asked 200 area businessmen to pledge $1,000 each to develop a plan for harbor improvement and the extension of foreign and coast line trade. World Trade Week was initiated by Chamber staff member Stanley Olafson in 1927 as a means of increasing community knowledge about the value of foreign trade and interesting foreign buyers in our locally made products.


To feed the growing water needs for an expanding Los Angeles, Chamber Director Fred Eaton and William Mulholland, superintendent and chief engineer of the Municipal Water Department, devised a plan in 1905 to bring water south from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles. Using the force of gravity, the water would be moved through an aqueduct which followed an ancient riverbed between the two areas. The Chamber and city of Los Angeles were involved in extensive lobbying for the plan before Congress. On Nov. 4, 1913 their dream was realized with the opening of the aqueduct to the San Fernando Valley, which had to be annexed by Los Angeles.

By the late twenties and early thirties, the need for yet more water was anticipated and efforts were made to find a new source. Despite serve opposition, water was to be carried 242 miles from a lake below Hoover Dam to a reservoir from which it would have to be channeled another 150 miles to the borders of the cities involved. During the planning stages, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce acted as a mediator and fought for the $220 million dollar bond issue to build the dam and aqueduct. To strengthen their efforts, the Chamber, The Edison Company, Los Angeles Gas and Electric Corporation, and the Municipal Bureau of Water, Power, and Light joined to form the Metropolitan Water District. The bond issue was passed in September 1931. The dam was finished in 1935 and the aqueduct completed three years later.

In the forties the Chamber launched a cooperative campaign to reduce a smoke and fume problem. When smog increased due to continued industrial growth, the Chamber worked with the Air Pollution Control District to create the "Share the Ride: campaign in 1956. Later they brought auto pollution by-pass devices to Los Angeles and aided in spurring initial commitment of $90 million in industrial air pollution control devices.


One of the major Chamber issues has been transportation. In 1946 the Chamber led a successful fight for legislation to finance construction of freeways in Los Angeles County and other parts of the state. A six-mile stretch of "miracle boulevard" had been opened as early as December 1940 with the Arroyo Seco Parkway, later renamed the Pasadena Freeway. On New Year's Day people from Los Angeles motored to the Tournament of Roses Parade in a record 12 minutes. By the end of the 1970s, 700 miles of freeway stretched across the region.

Today the Chamber continues its work toward development of a balanced transportation system for the ever-growing area through participation in such projects as Metro Rail and the Long Beach - Los Angeles Light Rail. 


Education is another continuing focus. Through FIRST BREAK and the Genesis project, the Chamber cooperates with other community and educational groups to identify jobs for teenagers and graduating high school students. They also sponsor an annual event to recognize outstanding principals in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Arts and Culture:

In 1932, the Chamber was largely responsible for bringing to Los Angeles the Olympic Games, which left the area with lasting physical improvements and financial gains during the depression era. The Women's Division of the Chamber was organized that year in time to assist with Olympic visitors. The organization grew rapidly, enrolling the outstanding women of the community who sponsored such events as the Southern California Festival of the Allied Arts (arts, music, drama, dance and creative writing) with cash prizes and scholarships awarded to the artists. Other projects included a city beautification campaign, flower shows, garden tours and Christmas Out-of-Doors, which celebrated our mild weather by permitting elaborate decorations on tress, houses, and even cactus. A branch of this organization later became Los Angeles Beautiful, Inc.

The Chamber is a strong supporter of the arts and athletics. Through the Medici Awards the Chamber honors businesses for their major contributions to the cultural resources of the community.

In 1958, the Chamber boosted professional sports by helping bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles. When the Dodgers played the Giants in their first major league game in the Los Angeles Coliseum, and all-time attendance record was set. With Chamber efforts, Dodger Stadium was built in Chavez Ravine and opened in 1962.

The Chamber was also prominently involved in bringing the Olympics back to Los Angeles in 1984.