The purpose of The Commercial Club of Chicago is to promote the social and economic vitality of the metropolitan area of Chicago by co-operative effort, social intercourse, and a free interchange of views.
The Commercial Club of Chicago was founded on December 27, 1877. The Commercial Club united with The Merchants Club, organized in 1896, on February 11, 1907, and The Industrial Club, organized in 1905, on December 5, 1932, under the name of The Commercial Club of Chicago.
Since its founding, The Commercial Club of Chicago has been active in supporting a variety of civic, social and economic initiatives as our region has grown and developed into a leading world metropolis. Right from its inception, members engaged The Commercial Club in the most pressing issues facing Chicago at the time - including taxation, street repairs and schools, and launched several initiatives, including raising money for a vocational center for boys and donating land for the site of a local military base, Ft. Sheridan.
As the 20th century dawned, Commercial Club members turned their attention to the broader objective of molding Chicago into one of the great cities of the world. The Commercial Club followed the vision of its member, architect Daniel H. Burnham, who had undertaken a planning effort to transform the design and infrastructure of the burgeoning metropolis. In 1909, The Commercial Club underwrote the Plan of Chicago, co-authored by Burnham and Edward H. Bennett, which inspired a 50-year development and beautification program for the "Metropolis of the Middle West" and which has received worldwide recognition. The Burnham Plan is responsible for Wacker Drive, Grant Park, and the acres of parkland and cluster of museums along the lake. In addition, most of the major rail and highway corridors serving Chicago today were included in the 1909 plan.
With support from The Commercial Club, other members also made notable contributions to public governance and the betterment of Chicago through the years. John V. Farwell, Jr. championed a 16-year Commercial Club campaign to reform the Federal Reserve system and helped draft the Federal Reserve Banking Act of 1913. Julius Rosenwald, President of Sears, Roebuck, and Co., led the effort and pledged his own funds to create the Museum of Science and Industry, which opened in 1933. Under the guidance of member Samuel W. Witwer, The Commercial Club joined other organizations in supporting a referendum to hold a convention to rewrite the Illinois constitution in 1970.
The 1980s proved to be a turning point for The Commercial Club and the Chicago region. During this period, Commercial Club members become increasingly concerned about the gradual erosion of the Chicago region's economic vitality, particularly Chicago's low rate of job growth that was trailing other American cities. The Commercial Club once again mobilized its resources, commissioning an unprecedented study in 1983 called Jobs for Metropolitan Chicago, which revealed a number of the region's economic strengths and weakness. The Club then formed its Civic Committee - a smaller group of member CEO's and senior executives from Chicago's leading businesses, professional firms and universities - to consider needs and plans for the development of the Chicago metropolitan area. Since its inception, the Civic Committee has continued work on major projects - such as reforming the Chicago public school system, expanding O'Hare airport, and creating jobs for inner-city residents.
Perhaps the most significant project undertaken by The Commercial Club of Chicago in recent years was the Metropolis Project. The Commercial Club launched this initiative in 1996 to develop a long-term policy framework to reshape metropolitan Chicago in ways that would enhance the quality and equity of regional life and ensure Chicago's place in the top tier of global cities. The Metropolis Project engaged over 200 Club members in the study of six important public policy issues: education; economic development; taxation; governance; transportation, and land use and housing. The Commercial Club published the project's findings in the report, Chicago Metropolis 2020: Preparing Metropolitan Chicago for the 21st Century, and created an organization, Chicago Metropolis 2020, to implement the report's recommendations.