The city of St. Petersburg was formed in 1888. “Marketed from the start as a destination to improve health, St. Petersburg boosters took care to preserve the natural and recreational amenities of the city including the waterfront park system.” In 1899, the Board of Trade was created, and did not formally change its name to St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce until 1920.
William Alexander Holshouser was one of the twelve original founders of the St. Petersburg Board of Trade, serving as its first president in 1903. He was an enthusiastic advocate of promoting patent medicines and advertising the benefits of living in his beloved Tampa Bay town. The gist of his message was that the Pinellas Peninsula was indeed exactly what Dr. Van Bibber, a late nineteenth-century physician, had claimed it to be: “the healthiest place in the country.” His message was spread around the country through postcards and leaflets that his own customers mailed to friends up North. He also printed thousands of booklets and came up with clever schemes to further publicize his beloved city.
The Sunshine City’s population had increased from 14,237 in the 1920s to more than 100,000 in 1945, partially due to the continuous nation-wide promotion of the city’s charming features. In the 1920s, it was Holster’s board of trade that would take a leap of faith and hire John Lodwick, the ambitious Ohio sportswriter, as the first public relations person for any American city. He is credited with generating millions of dollars of free publicity for St. Petersburg in magazines, newspapers and films. As former chamber manager William Davenport Sr. in 1956 once stated, “St. Petersburg was built on printer’s ink”.
Since the group’s origination, the Chamber and its Board of Governors has been one of the most influential organizations of St. Petersburg’s economic growth and development. According to Karl Grismer, author of The Story of St. Petersburg (1948), the Chamber was so instrumental to St. Petersburg’s success that “to relate the activities of the Chamber since 1920 would be like repeating the history of the city”.
In addition to promoting the city continuously and countrywide, the Chamber successfully advocated municipal improvements and organized local civic clubs and social groups for visiting vacationers. After all, the mission of the Chamber is to promote quality of life and attract people to come to St. Petersburg, as well as develop business in the community.