The idea of a national institution to represent the unified interests of U.S. business first took shape when President William Howard Taft, in a message to Congress on December 7, 1911, addressed the need for a "central organization in touch with associations and chambers of commerce throughout the country and able to keep purely American interests in a closer touch with different phases of commercial affairs."
Four months later, on April 22, 1912, President Taft's vision became a reality when a group of 700 delegates from various commercial and trade organizations came together to create a unified body of business interest that today is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In 1925, construction on the Chamber headquarters was completed on property that had belonged to Daniel Webster, and the U.S. business community made it a rallying point for promoting and defending free enterprise and individual opportunity.
Over 100 years later, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world's largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations.
The U.S. Chamber and the legacy of Daniel Webster share more than just the hallowed ground that is now 1615 H Street Northwest.
This venerable institution and this statesman's spirit share an unwavering commitment to democracy, individual opportunity, and free enterprise. They are forever bonded by the words of Webster, which were inscribed in stone in the original Chamber building:
In 1802, when Washington, D.C., was still a federal territory, the land on which the United States Chamber of Commerce stands was valued at two cents per square foot. Today, that location — directly across Lafayette Park from the White House — is one of the most historic and valuable pieces of real estate in the nation's capital — if not in the entire country.
The rich history of the U.S. Chamber building traces itself back to one of the 19th century's greatest thinkers, Daniel Webster. In 1841, friends of Webster purchased a three-and-a-half story home on the ground now occupied by the U.S. Chamber building. Webster's home was the site of a number of historic events, including final negotiations with Great Britain over Maine's boundaries that resulted in the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842.
In 1849, Webster sold his house to the prominent Washingtonian W.W. Corcoran, whose art collection today remains close by. Several other dignitaries lived in Webster's former home over the years before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ultimately purchased the land. It broke ground in 1922, having selected Cass Gilbert, designer of the Supreme Court Building and the Treasury Annex in Washington, D.C., and one of the most renowned architects of the day, to design a building to reflect the organization's prestigious mission.
Three years and $3 million dollars later, the U.S. business community had its headquarters. Marked by three-story Corinthian columns and an Indiana limestone surface, the exterior of the building reflects the Chamber's commitment to solid, traditional American values, while the interior public rooms and space reflect the organization's dynamic, forward-thinking mission.
On August 26, 2019, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced the beginning of an 18-month restoration project of its historic Washington, D.C. headquarters. During the restoration, the full exterior of the 97-year-old building underwent detailed maintenance and preservation services.
Justin Waller, the Chamber’s Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President of Operations released the following statement:
“For nearly 100 years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building has witnessed history. Over 65,000 business owners, policy makers, and heads of state walk through our headquarters’ doors each year to ensure businesses across the country can thrive and create jobs. With an eye on the next 100 years, we are strengthening the foundation of our headquarters so that it remains a landmark in our nation’s capital for generations to come.
Waller continued, “Our building was built in the early 1900s through the financial support of business leaders and local chambers of commerce all over the country, seeking a strong advocate for the business community in Washington. Our construction partners are the best in the business and are committed to ensuring our building, designed by the architect of the Supreme Court, is fully restored to its original design."
The Chamber hired renowned restoration experts Hartman-Cox Architects and Simpson Gumpertz & Herger as the lead architectural and engineering partners respectfully. Grunley Construction Company served as general contractor, Lorton Stone was the project’s masonry trade, and MGAC was project manager. These restoration experts have a wealth of experience and have collectively worked on major historical buildings and memorials including the U.S. Capitol Building; U.S. Supreme Court; Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Monuments; U.S. Treasury Building; National Archives Building; National Portrait Gallery; Kennedy Center Concert Hall; and the 9/11 Memorial.