The Chamber of Commerce of New York

Politics and War > Suppose You Were a Soldier

In June 1941, a U.S.O. fundraising notice in the Chamber’s Monthly Bulletin asked readers to “suppose you were a soldier.”

“Put yourself in this picture,” the article began, “A young man in the early twenties, you have left a job you like and held in abeyance all your plans for the future in order to do your stint in the army. Like thousands upon thousands of other young fellows, you have done this cheerfully because you feel it is your duty. Somewhat to your surprise perhaps, you learn that army food is good, the officers are human beings and in general military life isn’t as bad as you had feared.”

Fortunately, none in the Chamber actually had to undergo this ordeal. Instead, they found other ways to contribute to the war effort. In October, every seat in the Great Hall was occupied with members interested in volunteering as senior air raid wardens.

The next year, the members provided another service. Since the 1920s, the Chamber had “advocated the fingerprinting of every person in the United States, citizens and aliens alike, as a practical means to enforce criminal laws and to eliminate undesirable aliens.” J. Edgar Hoover had spoken to the members on the subject in 1935, personally recording the fingerprints of several prominent businessmen for the files of the FBI.

Wartime exigencies finally brought the idea into the mainstream. In 1942, the members dedicated part of their building to serve as the Civilian Fingerprinting Center. On July 20, the Chamber President was first to ink his thumb, followed by many other “prominent executives who had their prints taken during the first hour.” The initial enthusiasm faded, however. By March 1943, only 3,000 prints had been taken, and the volunteers at the desk were being consoled for lack of turnout. “To them it must often seem,” rued the Bulletin that the time they spend during lunch hour and after the close of business is largely wasted and that their service is futile because apparently so few of the thousands of passersby show any interest.”

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