CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Three of the state’s oldest and most important trade groups — the West Virginia Coal Association, the West Virginia Manufacturers Association and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association — marked their 100th anniversary in 2015.
While the current leaders of the three trade organizations aren’t certain what prompted their industries to form associations in 1915, one historian at Marshall University said it had to do with battling against growing government involvement and regulation of business and industry — issues that today still occupy the time of trade groups and the front and editorial pages of newspapers.
Daniel Holbrook, chairman of Marshall University’s History Department, said, “The formation of those organizations really has little to do with the West Virginia economy per se (although oil and gas were, and remain, a significant part of the state’s economy) but is part of the trend towards establishing trade and business associations at all levels during the Progressive Era (1880-1920).”
Holbrook said the phenomenon was in part “a reaction to growing government involvement and regulation of business and industry.”
Companies “wanted to both make sure their national and state voices were heard in a legitimate way (rather than simply buying politicians, as had been the norm), and to give them at least the appearance of being able to regulate themselves, and so fend off government regulation,” he said.
“It’s also part of the larger movement towards professionalization, and a reaction to the creation in the post-Civil War era of truly national markets for goods.”
Holbrook noted that the Pennsylvania Association of Manufacturers was formed in 1909, the National Association of Manufacturers was founded in 1912 and the Pennsylvania Oil, Gas and Minerals Association was established in 1918.
The April 30, 1915, Charleston Daily Mail reported that “the coal men of West Virginia” had gathered in Huntington to organize the coal association, which was “formed to promote the interest of the industry and of the miners. The new organization claims to include 75 percent of the coal tonnage production in the state.”
It was an active group. A Page One story in the Sept. 25, 1915, Bluefield Daily Telegraph reported that the association’s executive committee — meeting in Philadelphia, Pa. — unanimously decided to cooperate with district organizations to fight a proposed increase in rail rates from West Virginia to points in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.
Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said the organization celebrated its anniversary at its annual membership meeting at The Greenbrier Resort in August.
Rebecca Randolph, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, said, “A lot of our historic documentation was lost in the flooding of the WVMA basement several years ago.” She said it is known that the organization was formed in 1915 and 58 manufacturers attended the first convention a year later at the Kanawha Hotel in Charleston.
On Nov. 18, 1916, the East Liverpool (Ohio) Evening Review reported, “The first annual assembly of the West Virginia Manufacturers’ association met last evening at Charleston, with over a score of members from the northern Panhandle and Wheeling in attendance.
“Among those attending from this part of the state were: W.E. Wells, of the Homer Laughlin China company of Newell; C.V. Erdman, of the Phillips Sheet & Tin Plate company, Weirton; E.A. Morse, representing the same industry; C.H. Blumener, of the Jefferson Glass company, Follansbee, and U.J. Kirk, of the Follansbee Bros’ mills.”
Randolph said, “While many of the companies representing the original founders have closed their doors or moved from West Virginia, some of the original members remain” including Kanawha Manufacturing, Eagle Manufacturing and Homer Laughlin China Co.
“Both Rollin and Warner-Klipstein Chemical companies were founding members,” she added, noting that the companies were eventually bought by Union Carbide which, in turn, was bought by The Dow Chemical Co. in 2001.
The manufacturers hosted a 100-year Anniversary Celebration Social and Dinner at the Clay Center in Charleston on March 26.
Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said the oil and gas trade group started a year-long celebration during its annual fall meeting in September at Oglebay Resort.
This story was made available via the West Virginia Press Association and its statewide story-sharing service.