History of the Jaycees

GiessenbierHenry “Hy” Giessenbier, Jr. (1892-1935) wanted to develop the business skills and the reputation of young men. This approach was a bit unusual, as his era was one in which most young men were out of school and working by the age of 15, and their first jobs were the jobs they died in. If they were lucky, they might work their way into an executive position by the time they were in their 40s. But Hy knew that twelve signers of the Declaration of Independence were under 35; Thomas Jefferson was only 33 when he wrote the original draft of the document!

So Hy decided to do something positive for the young men of St. Louis. On October 13, 1915, at the Mission Inn in St. Louis, Missouri, Hy gathered 32 young men agreed to form the Young Men’s Progressive Civic Association (YMPCA), developing their skills as leaders by tackling difficult civic problems. Today we recognize October 13 as “Mission Day” for chapters and observe the occasion with membership drives and special meetings.

Giessenbier wanted young men to make an impression early in life, so development of business and leadership skills was offered to members of the early movement. Those skills and other benefits are still offered today.

In 1916, the YMPCA changed its name to Junior Citizens at the request of Clarence H. “Daddy” Howard, a St. Louis industrialist and early benefactor of the Junior Chamber organization. The Junior Citizens affiliated with the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce in 1918. Following the first World War, a plan to form a national coalition of young men’s groups was widely circulated.

The “St. Louis Plan” resulted in a gathering of 29 organizations from around the country in January of 1920. This caucus on January 21 and 22 is the official date of birth for The United States Junior Chamber of Commerce. Today, the commemoration of the caucus falls within Junior Chamber Week, which begins the third Sunday of every January.

In June of 1920, when the first Annual Meeting was held, Hy was elected president. Little did he realize how much effect the organization he started would have in America and around the world. He died on November 7, 1935.

In the 1920s, the Junior Chamber of Commerce began the first national program, “Get Out The Vote”, designed to encourage citizens to participate in their government. Today governmental involvement remains a national concern.

One of the Junior Chamber’s significant accomplishments was its role in the development of aviation in America. Many local organizations helped construct and develop airport facilities. The efforts of Junior Chamber chapters also resulted in the establishment of regular air mail service.

In the 1930s, the organization grew to nearly 700 chapters. A national publication, ACTION, began. Adoption of a new constitution, design of the official seal of the Junior Chamber and the establishment of the Distinguished Service Awards (DSA) program also took place. The U.S. Junior Chamber established the Ten Outstanding Young Men recognition program, now known as Ten Outstanding Young Americans. They worked hard to reduce urban traffic accidents in the ’30s through the “Safety With Light” program.

More significant, though, was the role Junior Chamber groups had in conserving America’s natural resources. Cooperation between groups in Canada and the U.S. resulted in the Quetico Provincial Park in Canada and the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota. Junior Chamber groups also worked with Garden Clubs, the Farm Bureau, Isaac Walton League and other groups to form the National Wildlife Federation. The Federation represents all conservation groups. Its purpose is to ensure adequate legislation for conserving our national resources at the state and national level.

Even though most of its members would hear the call of duty in the ’40s, the Junior Chamber of Commerce went on record in favor of compulsory military training at the organization’s 1940 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. While more than 85 percent of the membership was fighting in World War II, local groups were conducting scrap drives, selling war bonds and assisting USO chapters to help in the war effort.

Despite the hostilities in other countries, the true spirit of the Junior Chamber prevailed. The organization was established in other countries in 1944 during a meeting in Mexico City, Mexico. Today, more than 100 countries are part of the organization known as Junior Chamber International (JCI).

A young Junior Chamber member from Columbus, Ohio, attended the first convention (in Milwaukee) after the war. He was so inspired he wrote the words of what is known today as the Junior Chamber of Commerce Creed. C. William “Bill” Brownfield realized the importance of the Junior Chamber of Commerce movement, which he then incorporated into a statement of belief.

A Junior Chamber project that bridged the 1940s and 1950s was a government reorganization. President Truman had asked former President Hoover to review the operation of government Hoover’s recommendations met with opposition from government officials, veterans and other groups. The Junior Chamber backed the recommendations because it felt the changes would benefit all Americans. The organization’s campaign on behalf of the Hoover Report enabled more than 80 percent of the recommendations to be enacted.

The 1950s saw the outbreak of another war and saw the Junior Chamber of Commerce working harder to preserve the freedoms of America. President Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first President to address an Annual Meeting of the Junior Chamber in 1953. In his speech, the president said, “Yours is one of the nation’s most distinguished and enterprising organizations. You are young and responsible people, with impressive careers and achievements already recorded to your credit. . . because you are both young and responsible, you know what is your greatest responsibility of all tomorrow the whole future of freedom.”

The Junior Chamber worked to obtain statehood for the territory of Alaska during the ’50s. Statehood for Hawaii was achieved shortly afterwards. Junior Chamber members were also concerned about the youth of America and so began the “Junior Citizens Crusade.”

The Crusade was designed to curb and prevent delinquency by offering constructive activities for youths, such as the Safe Driving Roadeo and other programs. The Junior Chamber worked to rehabilitate youth who strayed by establishing a uniform juvenile court system and by backing the “Big Brother” program.

In the 1960s, the Junior Chamber enlightened the country about mental health and mental retardation. Their most significant activity of the ’60s was the organization’s efforts to create a Uniform Vehicle Code. Chapters surveyed local problems and worked to promote enactment of uniform laws by all states and to adopt similar municipal codes.

In the 1970s, the organization helped create the National Center for Voluntary Action, but also played a vital role in other areas of public concern. An alcohol abuse program, “Operation Threshold,” contributed to an understanding of the problems associated with alcohol consumption. “Operation Red Ball” saw the Junior Chamber distribute more than 5 million fire protection stickers in 1972 alone as part of a program to aid fire departments in locating children and invalids during household fires.

During the 1980s, the organization faced many turning points. The membership voted in 1984 to expand their membership requirements by admitting women, ages 18-35 as full voting members. In 1987, another vote revised The U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce age limits to 21 through 39, expanding Junior Chamber opportunities to even more people. In the ’80s, the Junior Chamber continued to support America’s Olympic Athletes; raise funds to fight muscledestroying diseases; be concerned with the conduct of government in this country; further improve communities by developing parks and playgrounds that are safe to use, becoming involved with efforts to house the homeless and feed the hungry, while developing their own personal skills as leaders; and extend the hand of the Junior Chamber to other communities to help more young people than ever before create a lasting effect.

Opportunities in the 1990s are endless. In the beginning of the decade, the Junior Chamber was involved in Project Home Front helping families touched by Desert Storm and the war in the Gulf. The Junior Chamber also took advantage of the development of the movement in the Eastern Bloc countries, with the promotion of the Junior Chamber to a united Germany and in the Soviet Union. Junior Chamber members will continue to determine the history of this decade by what they do in the worldwide community.

In 1990, the name of the organization was officially changed back to “The U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce”. In 1992, national Wake Up America program urged communities to get involved in politics by coordinating voter registration campaigns, hosting debates, and embracing pertinent community issues. Junior Chamber members responded to devastating hurricanes in the southeast with national support. In 1993, GreenWorks! environmental education and community action programs were adopted by the USJCC. Jaycees Against Youth Smoking (JAYS) was adopted as a national program. In 1994, the Junior Chamber Mission Inn Foundation program was launched. This program is ongoing and will build a nationwide network of care facilities for children and adolesents affected by HIV/AIDS. In 1995, The Jaycee Alliance was formed as a non-partisan, educational grassroots governmental advocacy organization to give Young American Adults a voice in government. The organization recognized the upcoming boom on the Internet early on, and with the intent of “Connecting Jaycees Across America”, launched it’s own website in 1995. The address was changed to www.usjaycees.org in 1996. Also in 1996, the Jaycees Wake Up America Tour began a journey through the 48 contiguous states promoting programs and membership. Social Security Reform Town Hall Meetings were also started around the nation.

Changes in the Junior Chamber will continue. It is what makes the Junior Chamber unique. Changes come through the new ideas proposed by the membership. Each young adult who is a member of this organization is given that chance to grow and develop. For valuable insight on the history, programs and people of the Junior Chamber, read A Legacy of Leadership: The U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce Celebrates 75 Years. The 1995 book relates the inspiring stories and photos of how our movement has changed America. On Being A Jaycee is a collection of statements by past Jaycees on what the organization has meant to them. This Junior Chamber history book can be ordered from The U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce Products department.