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San Diego Chamber of Commerce (1870-) | Special Collections & University Archives

Name: San Diego Chamber of Commerce (1870-)

Historical Note:

Alonzo Horton established the San Diego Chamber of Commerce on 20 January, 1870, making it the second chamber of commerce on the west coast.  Initially, the Chamber sought to promote San Diego as a place to live; it even created the first City Directory in 1874. In order to endorse San Diego, it advocated events such as the 1915 World Exhibition in Balboa Park.  It also encouraged the establishment of military bases in San Diego.  In 1917, during World War I, the city approved the creation of a Marine base and Naval Hospital.  Later, in 1919, the United States Navy made San Diego the home base of its Pacific Fleet.  Eventually Point Loma became the site of the Naval Training Center, and Miramar gained prestige as a naval air station.  In 1942, the Navy acquired land that would later become Camp Pendleton.  Hence, San Diego had firmly established itself as a major military center, which increased the overall prosperity of the county.

In 1944, the Navy began construction on an aqueduct that would bring water from the Colorado River to San Diego.  Two years later, the city completed the aqueduct with the use of bonds, which the Chamber helped to attain.  During this time, the Chamber also assisted with the development of Mission Bay Park, which officially opened in 1949. Similarly, turning Old Town into a historic state park also proved to be a major undertaking for the Chamber.  In the early to mid 1970's the Chamber helped to organize Old Town's anniversary celebration and the creation of Old Town's Seeley Stables Hazard Museum. 

Besides water and land development, both the Chamber and the City hoped to establish San Diego as a center for research, industry, and education.  The Chamber launched its "Build Industrial Growth" (B.I.G.) campaign in 1956 in order to bring industry and research to San Diego.  Ads, paid for and created by the Chamber, promoted San Diego as a fast-growing industrial center.  It encouraged entrepreneurs to send it their ideas and inventions, then the Chamber helped to find a manufacturer to produce the new item.  Similarly, the Chamber set up seminars and conferences, and circulated informational material that dealt with creating and expanding new businesses.  It even helped small businesses obtain licenses.  The Chamber also heavily supported government legislation that promoted small business, industry, and education, and it encouraged the public to do the same.

Not everyone totally supported the B.I.G. campaign, however.  Many San Diego residents wished to keep San Diego small.  Los Angeles had grown rapidly, and not all San Diego residents wanted to mimic LA's explosive growth. After all, an increase in industry meant an increase in population, traffic, and cost of living.  The Chamber's B.I.G. campaign proved successful, however, and San Diego's industrial sector prospered.  In fact, by 1970, San Diego was California's second largest city with a city population of 696,769 and a county population of 1,357,854.  Although the Chamber's push for industry led to a greater demand for housing, roads, and infrastructure, the Chamber addressed these new demands and lobbied for more schools, housing, and freeways.

San Diego's schools and universities also experienced a rapid transformation.  Although San Diego State University had been established in 1898, the Chamber wanted to promote San Diego as a center of higher education, and therefore sought to promote the establishment of other universities in the San Diego area.  The University of San Diego was founded in 1954, and shortly thereafter, the Chamber began to endorse the purchase of land for a future University of California site.  Finally, in 1964 the University of California, San Diego was established.  The Chamber even sought to make San Diego the California State University system headquarters, but this task proved unsuccessful.  Community colleges and trade schools were also endorsed by the Chamber.  It set up essay contests at junior high schools on the topic of free enterprise, and it created Business-Education Day, in which teachers could be exposed to various types of businesses and careers.  The Chamber also set up a Career Development Services Committee to help San Diego residents find jobs.

Today, the Chamber remains a non-profit business advocacy group, and still plays a major role in public policy and economic development.  It consists of 8 divisions: the Economic and Research Bureau, the Government Division, the Educational Division, the Motion Picture and Television Bureau, the Small Business Development Center, the Membership Division, the Military Affairs Division, and the Communications and Marketing Division.


Note Author: Amanda Lanthorne

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