What started with 17 businessmen in a small city now contributes to policy for a major metropolis

Jump to: 1980s | 1990s | 2000s


17 businessmen formed The Commercial Club out of the belief that Chicago needed a strong civic force to guide its development.


The Merchants Club (organized in 1896) united with The Commercial Club.


The Commercial Club underwrote the Plan of Chicago, co-authored by architect and Commercial Club member Daniel Burnham.  The plan earned worldwide recognition and inspired a 50-year development and beautification program.  Wacker Drive, Grant Park, the lakefront parks and museums and most of the city’s major rail and highway corridors are a result of the plan.


Member John V. Farwell, Jr. championed a campaign to reform the Federal Reserve and helped draft the Federal Reserve Banking Act of 1913.


The Industrial Club (organized in 1905) united with The Commercial Club.


Member Julius Rosenwald, President of Sears, Roebuck, and Co., led the effort to create the Museum of Science and Industry. 


Member Samuel W. Witwer led The Commercial Club campaign to garner support for rewriting the Illinois constitution.


The Commercial Club commissioned its Jobs for Metropolitan Chicago study and then formed the Civic Committee to address the needs it identified and spur economic growth.


Mayor Harold Washington asked the Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago to evaluate the financial health of the City. The Civic Committee and Chicago United established the Financial Planning Committee in response, bringing together more than 70 executives to study the budget, evaluate long-range financial prospects and make recommendations for strengthening the financial condition of the City of Chicago.


The Civic Committee began publishing Chicago Enterprise Magazine to bring to light important issues that were overlooked or even ignored by other publications.

The Civic Committee created the Chicago Enterprise Center, now the Chicago Entrepreneurial Center, to assist promising entrepreneurs and help local business small business.


The Financial Research and Advisory Committee (FRAC) was organized to improve government efficiency in the City of Chicago.


The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club worked in concert with local community groups to push for a major school reform law, which was passed by the Illinois General Assembly.


The Civic Committee launched Leadership for Quality Education (LQE) to implement the 1988 school reform law. Later, LQE, which helped spur the charter school movement, was combined with the Illinois Network of Charter Schools to bring together the business community, and charter organizations in the support and expansion of charter schools in Chicago.

The Civic Committee pushed to form the Illinois Coalition, now the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition, to attract innovation and technology-based economic development in Illinois.


The Civic Committee task force championed the case for a new county hospital and helped to win approval and funding for the construction of John H. Stroger, Jr., Hospital of Cook County.


The Civic Committee played a leading role in shaping and helping to pass the groundbreaking 1995 Chicago School Reform Law.  This law put the Mayor of Chicago in charge of the future of Chicago Public Schools, provided new accountability measures and changes in financial structure and labor management relations.


The Commercial Club launched the Metropolis Project to develop a long-term policy framework to keep Chicago a top-tier global city.  The project studied six public policy areas: education, economic development, taxation, governance, transportation, and land use and housing.


The Commercial Club published the Metropolis project's findings in a book called Chicago Metropolis 2020: Preparing Metropolitan Chicago for the 21st Century and created Chicago Metropolis 2020 to implement the report's recommendations.

The Civic Committee established World Business Chicago to increase the visibility of Chicago as a global city and recruit international business. WBC is now a public-private partnership, to address globalization and international economic issues in the metropolitan area.


The O’Hare Modernization Program was signed into law with the backing of the Civic Committee. As the most ambitious airport restructuring in the country, the project’s goal was to solidify Chicago’s position as a leading transportation hub and international gateway.

More than a dozen additional charter schools for Chicago were approved by the legislature.

The Civic Committee released its report, "Left Behind", which led to Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 effort to establish 100 new charter, contract and performance schools.


The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club established the Renaissance Schools Fund (RSF) to work with Mayor Daley to open 100 new charter, contract and performance schools and provide all students, regardless of socioeconomic background, with the opportunity to compete on a global playing field.


FRAC became the Civic Consulting Alliance, a name that reflects its unique approach to working with local government and business partners across the civic landscape.


The Civic Committee put out its first "Facing Facts" report on the fiscal issues facing the state of Illinois.


The state legislature passed a pension reform law for new employees which included many Civic Committee recommendations.

The Civic Committee launched its Illinois is Broke campaign to raise awareness of the State's pension problem and encourage elected officials to act.

The Civic Committee played a key role in helping to pass new charter school legislation, which increased the number of charter schools in Chicago and the rest of Illinois.


The Renaissance Schools Fund launched a new fund under a new name:  New Schools for Chicago.
(Note: New Schools for Chicago is now called Kids First Chicago). 


The Commercial Club continues as a strong civic force in Chicago, guided by its elite membership and spurring change through its Civic Committee and other affiliate organizations.