Did you know that America’s first chamber of commerce was formed in 1768, before the American Revolution? That there are currently more than 7,000 state and local chambers of commerce across the United States? That chambers of commerce inspired the building of New York’s subways, the creation of Chicago’s commodity exchanges, the institution of Washington’s Cherry Blossom Festival, the construction of San Francisco’s (and Marin County’s) Golden Gate Bridge and the legalization of Las Vegas’s casinos? A lot of things that we take for granted in American life owe their existence to voluntary associations of businessmen that have done their work largely out of the national spotlight.

Chambers of commerce, under varying names, have been among the most effective of the voluntary associations which Alexis de Tocqueville identified in the 1830s as central to American life and American achievement. Now there’s a definitive history of these institutions, The Magicians of Main Street, by Chris Mead, senior vice president of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, an association of 1,150 chambers. Highly recommended.