The organization we know today as The United states Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) traces its beginnings to the work of Henry Giessenbier, Jr., in St. Louis, Missouri. The history follows an unbroken line from his founding of the Young Men’s Progressive Civic Association on October 14, 1915, at the Mission Inn. Giessenbier is labeled our “founder.”

At the same time, voices are sometimes raised to say, “Hold on there. We had a Junior Chamber in our town back in 1912!” frantic searches the began to see what lies behind these claims.

Before Henry Giessenbier, Jr. founded The U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce, he created and lead the Herculaneum Dancing Club in St. Louis. This 1914 photograph appropriately shows Giessenbier at the wheel with some of his associates.
Click on image for larger version.

This situation is normal. There are a few undisputed “firsts” in world history. Every American child will tell
you the Wright Brothers were the first to fly, but Russian youngsters have their own version of the story.
So it is with many things. The reason is simple … there are no patents on basic ideas. In the case of the Jaycees, for example, it would be absurd to believe that Henry Giessenbier was the first young man to
have the idea of organizing a group of his fellows for the common good.

The very strength of the fundamental Jaycee ideas lies in their simplicity … community improvement and leadership training. These ideas, stated somewhat differently, motivated the knights of the Middle Ages and the minutemen of the United States Revolutionary War.

So, neither the idea of a young men’s group, or a young men’s group with civic purpose can be attributed solely to Giessenbier. This, in turn, brings up the question of whether he was the first man to conceive of a federation of generally similar to The United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (USJCC).

The answer seems to be NO! Groups somewhat similar to Giessenbier’s Young Men’s Progressive Civic Association (YMPCA), which eventually became the Junior Chamber of Commerce, can be traced to 1912.
This is 3 years before the YMPCA came into being. In October 1915, the same month as the YMPCA was born, there was actually a national organization of young men’s business clubs formed in Cleveland, Ohio. The purpose was more educational and less civic than these of the USJCC, but there was considerable similarity. The overall structure was much like that outlined in the first Jaycee constitution in 1920. Some provisions were identical. There can be little doubt that henry Giessenbier knew about the Young Business men’s Clubs of America.

None of this meant to minimize the work of Giessenbier, the man who saw an idea through until it not only materialized into a national organization, but a national organization grew worldwide since its founding at a Caucus held in St. Louis in January of 1920. The early St. Louis predecessor groups for which Giessenbier is responsible, had much to do with the basic philosophy of The United States Junior Chamber of Commerce he formed by calling the Caucus.

It must be emphasized that there have been virtually no change in basic outlook by the Jaycee organization since its first days. The YMPCA of 1915 was the model from which the Jaycees dye was struck. Had there been any other model, the organization might be far different from what it is today. Giessenbier’s plan was a good one.

That the USJCC idea is not a singular innovation is a credit to the young people of America and the world. Desire for self-betterment and leadership training through civic improvement are universal in nature. No one person could take credit for the terrific desire of young people to make their voices heard. Henry Giessenbier would have be the last to pursue such a desire.

With the perspective clear, it is possible to trace the Junior Chamber as it dates to henry Giessenbier in St. Louis. Brief mention will be made of other groups before the beginning of the story.


As previously stated, the story of The United States Junior Chamber of Commerce, as we know it today, concerns Henry Giessenbier and his work in St. Louis. Still, some notation must be made of similar organizations of young men, some of which preceded Henry’s YMPCA. All contributed to the growing need for a self-betterment and leadership training through civic improvement organization, which Giessenbier satisfied with the formation of The United States Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Perhaps the earliest club similar to a Jaycee group was formed in Cleveland, Ohio in 1912, and lamar, Colorado has such an organization in 1913. The Young Men of Jamestown, New York, organized in 1914, and New Orleans, Louisiana; Canton, Ohio; jackson, Mississippi; and Akron, Ohio all had their groups prior to the founding of the YMPCA in St. Louis in October of 1915.

The above mentioned clubs actually joined to form the Young Men’s Business Clubs of America in 1915, meeting October 28-30 in Cleveland. This national organization thus came into existence just two weeks after the YMPCA drew its first breath. Lee Skul of Cleveland was its first president.

The avowed purposes of the Young Men’s Business Clubs of America were stated as:

“The object of this organization shall be to amalgamate young men’s business clubs into one central body, to render more uniform and establish more firmly the organization, management, and progress of young men’s business clubs, and to assist them in the study and dissemination of business principles and methods, and the advancement of character and efficiency.”

So stated, the purposes were quite different than those of the USJCC, which were:

“This Corporation shall be organized for such educational and charitable purposes as will promote and foster the growth and development of young men’s civic organizations in the United States.

Nevertheless, the Young Men’s Business Clubs did not lack civic purpose, for these groups mention activities such as assistance to the poor, and municipal improvement, in their reports at Cleveland. As Mayor newton D. Baker of Cleveland had to say at the Congress:

“When you organize a young men’s business club, a business club that is going to give young men of the city an opportunity to thus know one another, you inevitably are producing a situation in which the concerted and consolidated forces of aggressive young men are brought to play.”

The Young men’s Business Clubs of America had a short-lived existence, although its demise cannot be pinpointed, except it was “dead” following World War I. The requirements for membership were more vague than those of the Jaycees … although there was little uniformity in the USJCC for many years. Just how young was “young” is not mentioned in the constitution of the Young Men’s Business Clubs of America.

Still, many constitutional provisions were identical to those of the Jaycees constitution of 1920, including items such as the dues set up and board of directors. These were the beginnings of organized efforts to join young men in a national group … efforts which reached their climax with the USJCC Caucus in 1920.

Young men still had earlier chances to join civic organizations, for the Rotary Club came into being in 1905 and Kiwanis got its start in 1915. The year 1971 saw the inception of Lions. As of 2011, Lions continues to be the largest of the three big service organizations. While these groups had no age requirements, being more concerned with definite representation by occupation, they did offer young men, although admittedly a limited number, a chance to strive for civic betterment.

Although similar in some ways to Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions, the USJCC had totally different membership requirements. It has been perceived to be more as an action group than the big three service clubs and has a much wider field of work.

America has long been a country of organizations and it would be too much to expect that the jaycees be entirely unique form other groups. Essentially Jaycees is a young person’s civic body which has developed its own particular “slant” as a result of its early beginnings in St. Louis and precedents which paved the way to the present.


The United States Jaycees is known today for the vast scope of projects which its local chapters undertake. As far-ranging as many of these are in their scope, most resulted from essentially simple ideas and needs. There was a problem to be solved and young people decided to tackle it. The conviction of one dedicated young person has brought many of our most successful programs into being.

Since this is true today, it is easy to understand how the Young Men’s Progressive Civic Association, which grew into the St. Louis Junior Chamber and the calling of a caucus to organize a national federation of Jaycee groups, was itself the result of development form a very simple social club.

The HERCULANEUM Club, which was the first group in the St. Louis chain, was founded on September 22, 1910., by henry Giessenbier, Jr., who was at the time an 18-year-old clerk at the International bank.

The Herculaneum had a simple purpose: “To form a closer and more pleasant relationship among members and concentrate their effort for higher and better ideals and social standing.”

At the time of its birth, the Herculaneum had but four members. They were Giessenbier, Fred Strohmeyer, Steve Kuhlmann and Irvin Anton, Henry Giessenbier, there after to be called by his popular name of “Hy” was the first president and Strohmeyer was secretary-treasurer.

Since no public dances or social events were held, just what the Herculaneum did between 1910 and 1913 is not specifically known. Activities were confined purely to members and their dates and consisted of the usual parties and dances popular among the youth of St. Louis in the years before World War I.

During the life of the Herculaneum form 1910 to 1916, “Hy” was president for all but one term and that was 1912 when his brother Rudy Giessenbier was chosen to the post. Rudy who dies in 1955, was about two years older than his brother Henry.

The first public dance of the Herculaneum Club was held in Clendenen’s Dancing Academy on
October 17, 1913, and followed closely by another ball on November 26, 1913. A special occasion of the second affair was the Herculaneum Waltz, a special step devised by the head dance master at Clendenen’s Dancing Academy.

Two dances and two excursions on the Mississippi river highlighted the social slate during 1914. The first of the dances was an event of January 8, 1914, at Clendenen’s Dancing Academy and the second was held October 27, 1914 at the Westminster Dancing Academy.

Even in those days, excursions on the Mississippi river were popular, although the early pleasure craft were more like the showboats of Stephen Foster’s days than the more modern S.S. Admiral which took up to 3,500 people onto the river on summer nights in St. Louis served for over 71 years until it was dismantled in 2011. Still the steamer “Belle of the Bends” was quite the ship and on July 3 and August 18, 1914 the herculaneum members and their dates went for cruises.

In the same year, the Herculaneum, with “Hy” Giessenbier at the helm, organized the Federation of Dancing Clubs. The Herculaneum had gradually achieved the reputation of being the leader among such groups and Giessenbier believed that an alliance of these clubs might serve a good purpose.

The federation, which named “Hy” as first president, included the Chanticleers, Delphis, LaCroix, Falcons, Mendelssohns, Werners and the ben Travto club. They represented all parts of St. Louis, although the herculaneum and Delphis were composed of boys from the south side of St. Louis The secretary-treasurer was Andrew Mungenast.

“Hy” Giessenbier’s desire to serve his community first became evident in the Federation of Dancing Clubs. This organization had its serious purposes although we may find it hard to recognize them as such in our current generation.

Basically there were two developments against which the Federation hoped to take a stand with the influence of the eight member groups.

Frank Leslie Clendenen (owner) pictured in front
of his dancing academy in 1910.

First, the members of the federation deplored the over-emphasizing of new dances such as the ostende, grizzly bear, turkey trot, tango, maxixe, one-step, hesitation and fox trot. They were not against enjoying these new dances, but did not want to crowd out the more traditional waltz and two-step.

Second, drinking was another concern of the Federation members. The boys themselves were in the habit of moderate drinking, beer for the most part, sine St. Louis has long been a brewing center. On the other hand, they did not approve of the use of alcoholic beverages during the functions, at which they entertained their dates.

The following statement sums up their position, this is taken form the pages of the St. Louis Globe Democrat in the autumn of 1914. The words are those of henry giessenbier:

“You know, things looked pretty bad for the dance back in September. It looked as if St. Louis had grown tired of dancing and decided to quit. many persons did not take readily to the novel forms of new dances.

It cannot be denied that there are dance halls that should not be permitted to exist. Liquor is served to boys and girls at some of the halls and at many of them the presence of a chaperone is lacking. Conditions such as these should not be countenanced. Their existence is harmful, not only to those who frequent the badly conducted halls, but to the well regulated halls, as it casts a stigma on all dancers and dancing.

It is to this end conditions like these that our federation was formed. Seven clubs joined it. Each signed a pledge that it would give no dance at a hall where liquor was served and each agreed to deny readmission to any person who left the hall during the dance. Every club must work to bring back the waltz and two-step. These of all dances should be the most popular and we will do our up most to aid in their revival. We hoe to reform the dance in St. Louis. We’ll do it too!”

There is no doubt that Giessenbier was already showing one of his key qualities … the desire to bring about improvement through action.

That the germ of a civic service organization was present in the Herculaneum and more visibly in the Federation of Dance Clubs is also the opinion of most men active at that time.

Here is what Matthew Ungermann of Albuquerque, New Mexico , has to say. He was a member of the herculaneum in 1912 and later went into the YMPCA, Junior Citizens and Junior Chamber:

“You asked if the germ of the present world-wide organization was present in the original organization. It was, but here is to the best of my knowledge, a further answer to your searching question.

There were many things that influenced the thinking of people during the early years of this century and no one thing can e said to be solely responsible for the progressive and forward looking ideas of that time, but if one chief influence can be named above all others, the name would have to be President Theodore Roosevelt. His six years in the White House was during the time that the United States became known as a world power…

As a nation, we had pioneered the west and started many new things, we had memory of a recent victory over Spain and we had elected a dashing hero of that war (Roosevelt). The youth of America had thrilled to his exploits in Africa. The Wright Brothers first flight was in 1903.

To those who, for lack of finances, had to make their fun at home, that is if they were to have any fun at all, there had to be some sort of activity, some outlet for the energies of youth, and so, in addition to the stirring of the imagination of the youth at that time, the need to do something was felt by every young person in America.

The Dancing Clubs were organized in response to the urge of the time, and became, as is well known, the stepping stone to other phases of organizations.”

At any rate, the federation did its best to bring about the reform of the dance in St. Louis, although there is no indication that this action changed the course of St. Louis history.

The Federation, in addition to striving for the clean-up of dance halls and preservation of older steps, had purely social functions. They consisted of a masked ball in January of 1915, a skating party in March that year, and finally, an Easter ball. An excursion on the mississippi was held in June.

As president of the Federation, Giessenbier was chosen as a judge for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch charity dancing contests held just prior to Christmas in 1914 and 1915. In this capacity, he sat with such notables as Mayor Henry W. Kiel of St. Louis. It is possible that giessenbier first came to know Keil and other public officials while serving as a judge of a dancing contest held in conjunction with a 50ยข-a-ticket charity ball.

After founding the YMPCA, Keil became a solid friend of the young men in St. Louis and his reputation as one of the city’s finest mayors was evidenced in the giant downtown Keil auditorium. This site was the site of the business sessions at the USJCC Convention in 1960. Kiel Auditorium played host to a variety of concerts and wrestling events, from the 1950s, until its closure in 1991 including the Miss Universe Pageant in 1983.

Like most other organizations, the Federation of Dancing Clubs would have its regular meetings, and to spice proceedings, speakers were often invited to appear before the group.

One of these orators was Colonel H. N. Morgan, a member of the speakers bureau of a group which favored the construction of a parkway or boulevard in S. Louis.

Morgan was an experienced speaker and when he had concluded his talk in late spring or early summer of 1915, the spark of interest in the parkway proposition had been generated in many members of the Federation. The formation of the YMPCA was soon to be realized.

As Ungermann said: “We were growing tired of dancing and it was time to turn to civic affairs.”

With the upcoming evolvement of the YMPCA and succeeding civic groups, the Herculaneum and the Federation of Social Clubs were to fade away, although they did maintain separate sparks of life for several years. Essentially, however, they were a part of youth cast aside.