New York Credit & Financial Management Association Celebrate
Murray, J. Robert, Business Credit
In 1995, the New York Credit and Financial Management Association, originally chartered as "The New York Credit Men's Association," will celebrate 100 years of continuing service to the credit and financial community. The records and minutes of the Association's past century chronicle the evolution of an organization that in many ways reflects the plethora of social and economic changes through which we as an organization and a society have traveled over the past century.
We can find references and resolutions in our records dealing with such matters as evolving legislation, war, armistice, deaths, economic crises, expansion and contraction in membership, political change, assassinations, and the passing of the torch of responsibility from one generation to another. In fact, what we see is ourselves as credit and financial professionals and as a people. We see ourselves as what we were, how we've changed, and what we have become. Certainly one cannot indulge in this process without yielding to the irresistible temptation to dream of what our future may be and how we can have a positive influence on that future. What follows is a chronology of the events surrounding the founding of the New York Credit and Financial Management Association.
On March 4, 1893, Grover Cleveland was inaugurated President of the U.S. and moved back into the White House after a four year absence. He had served as President from 1885 to 1889, and lost a close reelection bid to his republican opponent, Benjamin Harrison (grandson of William Henry Harrison, ninth president of the U.S.).
During his first term in office, Cleveland became the only President ever to be married in the White House. In the southwest region of the country, the renegade Apache Indian chief "Geronimo" was captured, and the 225 ton bronze "Statue of Liberty" was unveiled at Bedloe's Island in New York harbor.
Upon returning to the presidency in 1893, Cleveland's major problem was the economy. Shortly after his inauguration in he spring, the nation's gold reserves slipped below $100 million. This set off a national panic and pitted the proponents of "Gold vs. Silver" as the basis for the wealth and creditworthiness of the nation squarely against one another. In the 1890s, the silver in a silver dollar was worthless than 49 cents in gold. The "Silverites," consisting of democrats and populists, found their voice in the personage of William Jennings Bryan, senator from the state of Nebraska, while the "Goldbugs," and most of the gold, was controlled by New York banker J.P. Morgan, one of the wealthiest men in the country. The battle that ensued brought the country to the brink of monetary collapse. In the process, it created an atmosphere of distrust between the largely agrarian west and south for the urban northeast, and at the center of that distrust was the narrow concrete canyon in Manhattan known as Wall Street.
It was against this scenario that in 1893 a luncheon meeting was held at the old Astor House, then located opposite what was to become City Hall Park in New York City. The purpose of the meeting was to form an association that would work together for tie safeguarding of commercial credit and promote sound and ethical business practices.
One of the attendees at that meeting was a young man in his mid-20s by the name of Edmund Wright. He found that it was difficult for anyone to agree on any subject brought before the group. According to Wright, "So much animosity, suspicion, self satisfaction, jealousy, and indifference existed in business during those days that no agreement could be reached The meeting adjourned and no further meetings were scheduled.
The nation's economic crisis worsened through 1894 and it was not isolated just to the U.S. The world was in an economic depression. However, despite the prevailing economic crisis, society moved along and did it's best to cope. In Bologna, Italy an Italian physicist, Guglielmo Marconi, perfected wireless telegraphy. New Yorkers were taking the excursion from New York City to Niagara Falls on the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad to watch Samuel "Daring" Dixon walk a tightrope over the falls. (The cost of the round-trip was $9.25). Aspirin was introduced by Hermann Dresser, a German chemist, who noted its benefits as a pain killer and fever reducer. The first full color comic strip appeared in the New York World Newspaper owned by Joseph Pulitzer. The nation's economy was driven by such men as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, George Eastman, Thomas Edison, and J.P. Morgan. Born in 1894 were, among others, James Thurber, Alfred Kinsey, Aldous Huxley, Jack Benny, and the Duke of Windsor.
1895 began with the economic crisis still unresolved. However, reluctantly President Cleveland surrendered to J.P. Morgan, and the gold syndicate that he controlled, and by the summer of 1895 the U.S. gold reserves rose to their "pre-panic" levels and reached $107,000,000.00. Assistant Treasury Secretary, William Edmund Curtis wrote in a private letter at the time: "We see the curious spectacle of the U.S. finances being controlled by a committee of which J.P. Morgan is chairman, while the Secretary of the Treasury (John G. Carlisle) sits practically powerless in his office
In England, the third and final volume of Karl Marx's "Das Kapital" was completed by Friedrich Engels, from Marx's original notes. Jim Corbett became the heavyweight champion of the world. Gold was being discovered in the Klondike region of Alaska, which would set-off the gold rush of 1897, and Oscar Hammerstein II, Buckminster Fuller, George Herman (Babe) Ruth, and Rudolph Valentino were born.
In the early part of 1895, Mr. Leonard L. Saniter, of Kansas City, Mo., arrived in New York City to awaken interest in the question of safeguarding commercial credits, and to promote the founding of a credit men's association among the business community in New York.
Certainly, the business practices and credit policies of the suppliers of goods that were headquartered in New York had a profound effect on the conduct of business in the developing economies of the mid-west and western states. Mr. Saniter was both a pragmatist and a visionary. He saw the need for cooperation, standardization of practices through education, protection from unscrupulous and fraudulent business behavior, and the need to break down those barriers of distrust between the New York business community and the rest of the country that had been built through the rhetoric and actions of the "Silverites and Goldbugs" in 1893.
It is uncertain whether Mr. Saniter was aware of the failed attempt to form an association two years before. Nevertheless, he brought with him, from Missouri, an ingredient that was lacking in that earlier effort, the stubborn determination to continue working until an association was formed.
One of those who shared this determination was Mr. Charles H. Meek at the National Lead Company. He and others worked with Saniter to organize an initial meeting. According to Meek, "After many days of patient effort, and in the face of every imaginable kind of discouragement, Mr. Saniter managed to gather together in the Astor House, on the evening of June 21, 1895 a group of men who would become the founders of the New York Credit Men' s Association."
All that summer meetings and conferences were held. The animosity, suspicion, and jealousy that was present in 1893 was still there. However, little by little and slowly but surely, the various factions began to see the wisdom of compromise and cooperation. It was a long hot summer and one can only imagine the frustrations, temper-tantrums, grandstanding, and personality conflicts which impeded the progress toward formation of the association. However, this dedicated group of business men persevered until finally on Sept. 19, 1895, a constitution and bylaws were adopted, an Executive Committee selected, a president, Mr. Michael E. Bannin, was elected, and the New York Credit Men's Association was born.
The first meeting of the Executive Committee of the infant association was held on Oct. 3, 1895. At that meeting, Mr. William A. Prendergast, who would later become comptroller of the City of New York, was elected as the association's first secretary. Mr. Prendergast served for more than a year in this capacity without remuneration.
On January 13, 1896, the Credit Men's Association filed a Certificate of Incorporation with the Secretary of State in Albany in which the objectives of the newly formed association were summarized in the following words:
"The said corporation was organized for protective and educational purposes. To promote and combine the intelligence of members for protection against imposition and fraud. To agitate changes in the collection and bankruptcy laws of the various states, and the United States, to the end of uniformity of statutes and protection of creditors against abuses now prevalent, to bring about material improvements, greater similarity in business customs and usages in trade, and to establish closer ties in business association, to the end that the welfare of all be more highly conserved."
For the first several years, meetings of the officers and the Executive Committee were held in the offices of various members. However, quickly membership began to grow and programs were being developed and it soon became apparent that the Association needed it's own office space.
A committee was formed and found space in a new building just completed by the New York Life Insurance Company, and located at 366 Broadway. However, when the Search Committee reported to the Executive Committee that the rent would be $500 per year, they were told to find another space.
Appropriate facilities were found at 320 Broadway at a more acceptable rent of $300 per year. An additional sum of $100 was then appropriated to purchase the desks, tables, chairs, cabinets and files necessary to furnish the newly found office space.
The first paid secretary of the association, Mr. Henry J. Sayer, was retained by authority of the Executive Committee in 1896. The same frugality with which they approached the procurement of office space was applied to the remuneration of Mr. Sayer. The committee voted compensation of $25 per month, plus a commission on all new members which he obtained.
At the meeting of the Executive Committee held on May 7, 1896, it was announced that the Toledo Chamber of Commerce had invited the credit men of the U.S. to meet at a convention in June of that year to consider the establishment of a national organization that would become the National Association of Credit Men, and ultimately NACM. It was agreed that a delegation from the New York Credit Men's Association should attend this meeting and participate, to the extent that they were able, in achieving the purpose for which the convention was established. The experiences of 1893 and 1895 being so fresh in the minds of the New York delegation undoubtedly gave them a unique perspective into the proceedings in Toledo that summer. I think that it can be stated with certainty that their hard-won experience in the formation of the New York Association was a major contributing factor to the success in the founding of the National Association of Credit Men in 1896.
The impact of the New York Credit Men's Association, eventually to become New York Credit and Financial Management Association on the conduct and development of business in this country is virtually incalculable. Many of the laws, agreements, procedures and institutions that we take for granted today were forged by the same difficult process by which the Association was formed, by men and women who possessed the wisdom, integrity, practical knowledge, and vision to know that these measures would be necessary for the safe conduct of commerce in our society and the perseverance to see that these same measures were put into practice.
Many of the early members at the association represented entrepreneurial ventures that have grown into a virtual "who's who" of "Fortune 500" conglomerates. A number of today's members represent the major corporations which some of those burgeoning enterprises have become. The Association's records show references to companies and industries that no longer exist, and many current member companies represent products or services that had not yet been imagined during the early years of the Association's existence.
But despite all of the social, economic, and technical changes which have occurred over the years, and in it's wake changed society and the way it conducts business, the one constancy has been the dedication, service, and hard work of the tens of thousands of members of the association over the five score years of its existence. These men and women were responsible for the association becoming in 1945 the largest local business association in existence. They are the vocational descendants of Leonard Saniter, Edmund Wright, Charles Meek, Michael Bannin and thousands of others who have worked tirelessly over the years to sustain the existence of the New York Credit and Financial Management Association and the principals set forth in it's certificate of incorporation. "May it always be so."
We invite credit and financial professionals from throughout the United States to join us in celebrating the vision, and realization of that vision, : that was expressed in 1893 and chartered in 1895 in New York. May we all be grateful for what has evolved from those early moments, and may we be faithful and responsible stewards of that vision for our time.
J. Robert Murray is vice president, New York Credit and Financial Management.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: New York Credit & Financial Management Association Celebrate. Contributors: Murray, J. Robert - Author. Magazine title: Business Credit. Volume: 97. Issue: 4 Publication date: April 1995. Page number: 45+. © 1999 National Association of Credit Management. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.