Prologue > "A More Worthy Impulse"
PATRIOTIC FLAGS draped the walls of the grand ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.
It was November 19, 1925, the night of the 157th annual banquet of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York. More than a thousand guests milled round dozens of tables. A few minutes after 7 p.m., the orchestra struck the first bars of “Hail to the Chief,” and Calvin Coolidge picked his way through the mass of applauding dignitaries and found his seat near the front of the dining hall.
Two hours – and eight extravagant courses – later, the President of the United States extinguished his cigar, slowly put on a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, and rose to speak. Millions of listeners tuned in through a national link-up of radio networks.
“This time and place naturally suggest some consideration of commerce,” Coolidge began. “We are finishing a year which can justly be said to surpass all others in the overwhelming success of general business. We are met not only in the greatest American metropolis, but in the greatest center of population and business that the world has ever known....”
In the audience that night were gathered many of the nation’s most prominent industrialists, executives, financiers, and entrepreneurs: Patrick Crowley and Samuel Rea, presidents, respectively, of the New York Central and the Pennsylvania railroads; Owen Young and John Rockefeller, Jr., utilities tycoons; Thomas Lamont and Samuel Sachs represented high finance; Ivy Lee and B.C. Forbes, Frank Munsey, Henry Holt, and Adolph Ochs, were leading publicists and media magnates. And of the hundreds of others, each was a leading figure in his own field: cement, steamships, stationery, confectionery, typewriters, warehousing, marine insurance, chemicals, woolens, investment banking, graphophones, steel castings, dairy products.
“The New York Chamber of Commerce is not made up of men merely animated with a purpose to get the better of each other. It is something far more important than a sordid desire for gain,” the President continued. “It is dominated by a more worthy impulse; it rests on a higher law. True business represents the mutual organized effort of society to minister to the economic requirements of civilization. It is an effort by which men provide for the material needs of each other.”
After fifty-five minutes, Calvin Coolidge stepped from the microphone, hoarse from the effort, but buoyed by “prolonged applause.”
When the members of the Chamber of Commerce, satiated and well-satisfied, exited the lobby onto Park Avenue that evening, their organization perched at the sharp pinnacle of its power and influence.