The first Akron Board of Trade was founded on April 12, 1867 at the urging of Wilse Robinson, owner of Robinson's Bookstore. Twenty-four civic leaders gathered at the Empire House to plan for the building of a greater Akron. Wilse even argued that a Board of Trade could bring more industry into town. Wilse could not have been more correct.
John F. Seiberling, head of the Excelsior Works, was the first president, and Charles Brown, an executive of the Buckeye Works, was named secretary. A fund of $500 was raised to begin operations. While there are no news accounts of the board's early proceedings, it is obvious there was plenty of hard work going on behind the scenes that produced many civic improvements during the next few years.
During 1870, George W. Crouse was president, and he published a resume of the Board's achievements. It was this resume, together with the activities of the Board of Trade, that brought Dr. Goodrich to Akron and thus began the rubber industry.
After World Wars I and II, the Boards of Trade figured prominently in the building of Akron. Each community developed its own Board of Trade and had a local newspaper supported by the advertising of merchants. In the 1960's, a file of these newspapers was donated to the Akron Historical Society upon the death of their printer, who belonged to the North Akron Board of Trade. In fact, this file of area newspapers gives a detailed account of the Board of Trade's activity in the 1920's, 30's, and 40's, including the building of the North Hill Viaduct, which was promoted and sponsored by the North Akron Board of Trade.
The fortunes of many politicians were based on their Board of Trade activity. In the early 1950's, the Boards of Trade were used to sponsor the election of a Democrat, Leo Berg, as Mayor of Akron. At that time, JJ Buchholzer, who owned Hower's Department Store, was the leading figure and primary sponsor of the Board of Trade movement. The leaders of all of the various Boards of Trade would meet for a free breakfast every month at his store.
However, many of the small business community were Republicans, and they objected to the political orientation of the Boards. Sometime in 1954, talks began to overthrow Buchholzer's leadership, but cooler heads prevailed, and a plan promoted by the West Akron Board of Trade was accepted. Under the plan, Mr. Buchholzer was named a permanent Chairman of the Akron Boards of Trade Council, and the office of President was rotated among various Boards with Charles Pfahl being elected the first such President.
Soon afterward, meetings of the Boards of Trade Council were moved to the Sheraton Hotel. However, upon Mr. Buchholzer's death, the Board adopted the "Buchholzer Award" in his honor, and the present Boards of Trade respect him for his efforts in keeping them alive during the post WWII years.
The strength of the Boards of Trade have been their local character. They are excellent springboards for candidates to the City Council, and they bring together the diverse interests of our community. The success of each Board of Trade is dependent upon retaining their local flavor and influence in their local community.
The primary political successes of the Boards of Trade were achieved by supporting and working with the members of City Council. This type of activity in the 1960's resulted in the adoption of a joint traffic-flow committee with the Chamber of Commerce. Before then, only the Chamber had the ear of local planners. It also resulted in the passage of a parking ordinance that permitted local merchants to ticket cars that were wrongfully parked in their private parking areas.
Boards of Trade really have the duty to work with and stay in close contact with local political representatives in city Council. This remains the source of their greatest power. As successful politicians move up the ladder, they carry with them the aspirations of their local Board. This was seen in East Akron with Mayor Berg and is presently seen in Kenmore. It always starts with local support and influence.
Like most organizations designed to fill specific needs, Boards of Trade have grown and waned over the years. However, they have always remained the vehicle used by local businessmen to improve their communities, and the continued growth of Akron is a testament to their success.