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History of the Jaycees

The United States Junior Chamber Of Commerce

National Jaycee History

The Jaycees were founded October 13,1915 at the Mission Inn, in St. Louis Missouri. The man responsible for this union was Henry “Hy” Giessenbier Jr. (1892-1935).

Giessenbier sought to develop the character and business skills of young men. Hy knew the potential of the young men of his era, and sought to bring out that potential in all. Hy decided to do something positive for the young men of St. Louis. On October 13, 1915, he gathered 32 young men together and agreed to form the Young Men’s Progressive Civic Association (YMPCA). Hy felt that he could develop their skills as leaders by tackling tough civic issues. Today October 13 is recognized as “Mission Day”. It is observed with special meetings and membership drives. Giessenbier felt it was important for a young man to make his mark early in life, so he offered the members development of business and leadership skills. Those skills are still offered to today’s members.

The YMPCA changed its name in 1916 to the Junior Citizens at the request of an early benefactor of the organization. In 1918, the Junior Citizens affiliated themselves with the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce. When World War I ended a plan was widely distributed to form a national organization. This plan (referred to as the “St. Louis Plan”) gathered 29 organizations from around the country in January of 1920. This gathering on January 21 and 22 is the official birthday of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce. Hy was elected national president at the first annual meeting, which was held on June 20. Hy still had no idea the effect his organization would have in America and around the world. He passed away November 7, 1935.

The Junior Chamber began it’s nationwide impact during the twenties with a program called “Get Out the Vote.” which was designed to get citizens involved in their government. One of the Junior Chamber’s biggest accomplishments was its role in the construction and development of airport facilities. The efforts of Junior Chamber Chapters were also instrumental in the development of regular airmail service.

During the thirties, the organization snowballed to almost seven hundred chapters. A national publication (called ACTION) was started. A new constitution was adopted; the design of the official seal and the establishment of the Distinguished Service Awards also took place. The United States Junior Chamber of Commerce also started the 10 outstanding Young Men recognition program (now known as 10 Outstanding Young Americans.) The Jaycees also worked to reduce traffic accidents with the “Safety With Light” Program. The Jaycees have also been involved in more important projects like the conservation of natural resources. Junior Chamber groups worked with other organizations to form the National Wildlife Federation. The Federation represents all the conservation groups. It ensures adequate legislation for conserving our National Resources at both the state and national levels.

In the forties most of it’s members heard the call to duty. However, on the home front the Jaycees did their part. While more than 85% of the membership was fighting World War II, local chapters conducted scrap drives, sold war bonds and assisted USO chapters in the war effort. Despite the war raging in other countries, the Junior Chamber spirit won out! The Junior Chamber was established in other countries during a 1944 meeting in Mexico City. Today more then 100 countries are involved in the Junior Chamber International (JCI). The first national convention after the war was attended by a young chamber member from Columbus Ohio, C. William Brownfield. He was so inspired he wrote the statement of beliefs now known as the Jaycee Creed.

During the fifties, with the outbreak of another war the Junior Chamber of Commerce worked harder to preserve the freedoms of America. President Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first US President to address an annual meeting of the Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1953. President Eisenhower had this to say,” 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.” During the fifties, the Junior Chamber worked towards gaining statehood for the territory of Alaska. Not long after that Hawaii was also admitted as a state with the assistance of the Jaycees. America’s youth was another concern of the Junior Chamber, and because of this, they began the ” Junior Citizens Crusade”. The purpose of the Crusade was to interest young people in constructive activities, such as the “Safe Driving Rodeo” and other programs. This was designed to help steer young people in the right direction. The Junior Chamber worked on rehabilitating youth and establishing a juvenile court system, and by backing the “Big Brother” program.

During the 1960’s, the Junior Chamber chose to share its concerns about mental health and mental retardation. Their most significant activity of the sixties was the organizations efforts to create a Uniform Vehicle Code. The chapters believed that all state laws should be uniform and worked on adopting similar municipal codes by surveying local problems.

In the 70’s the organization helped to create the National Center for Voluntary Action, but also played a vital role in other areas of public concern. The Junior Chamber believed alcohol abuse and the knowledge of fire protection was of main concern. “Operation Threshold” was established and helped explain, teach and help others to understand problems in, around, or associated with alcohol consumption. Then to help fire departments locate children and invalids during household fires, “Operation Redball” was established. In 1972, over five million fire protection stickers were distributed as part of this program.

The 1980’s found the organization facing many turning points. In 1984, the membership voted to expand membership requirements and began to also let women join, ages 18-35 and included them as full voting members. In 1987 the age limit was changed to 21-39, expanding opportunities to even more people. Continuing throughout the eighties they continued to support their concerns of choice including, American Olympic athletes, raising funds to fight muscular dystrophy diseases, the conduct of the countries government, community development, as in safe parks and playgrounds, helping the homeless and the hungry. As the members were sharpening their leadership skills, the Junior Chamber chose to extend their hand to other communities leaving a lasting, positive effect on those young people.

Now in the 1990’s, the first of the decade brought many challenges including Operation Desert Storm. The Junior Chamber helped families touched by this operation through “Project Home Front”. 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 United States Junior Chamber of Commerce. In 1992, due to the urging of the national “Wake Up America’ program, communities were getting involved in politics, by coordinating voter registration campaigns, hosting debates and taking interest in important community issues. Junior Chamber members received national support by supporting the southeast as they were hit by devastating hurricanes. In 1993, Greenworks, an environment education and community action programs, and the Jaycees Against Youth Smoking (JAYS) were both adopted as a national program. In 1994, the Junior Chamber Mission Inn Foundation program was launched. This will help to provide nationwide facilities for those affected with by HIV/AIDS. The Jaycee Alliance was established in 1995. This organization allows young American adults a voice in government, as it is formed as nonpartisan and educational. The organization hopped on-line as Internet interest increased. “Connecting Jaycees Across America,” launched its own web site in 1995. In 1996 the address changed to: www.usjaycees.org. Also in 1996, a journey began to promote programs and memberships throughout the 48 contiguous states as the Jaycees Wake Up America tour began. Social Security Reform Town Hall Meetings began nationwide as well.

Changes in the Junior Chamber will continue. As each new young adult gains membership, they are in their own right growing and developing, preparing new and unique ideas as times change and things happen. The Junior Chamber is a unique organization, getting better and stronger with each passing year.

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