Pack your bags and get on board. The business leaders of St. Joseph set out on “a mission of good will and prosperity.”
This took place in late May 1901, what had been billed as the first trade extension excursion in the city’s history. Eighty fellows climbed into St. Joseph & Grand Island Railway cars at Union Station on South Sixth Street early that morning, eager to spread good news of commerce to folks in Kansas and Nebraska.
There was a Goetz in the traveling party, and a Krug and a Wyeth and a Maxwell.
John Donovan and L.F. Swift, coming from Chicago, had missed the St. Joseph departure but took a private engine and rail car belonging to Raymond Du Puy, the St. Joseph & Grand Island general manager, to catch up to the excursion in Hiawatha.
Meatpacking thrived in St. Joseph during those days, employing about 3,300 in 1905, plus the city had become a major generator of jobs in what remained the emerging West.
When the movers and shakers went out to smaller communities in the near plains, that meant, according to newspapers of the day, plenty of handshaking and “new friendships cemented for mutual profit and pleasure.”
The train made a quick stop in Troy, and good crowds turned out at Severance, Leona and Robinson. In Hiawatha, former Kansas Gov. Edmund Morrill greeted the guests, who loaded themselves in carriages for a ride around the city.
It went that way throughout the afternoon, in Sabetha and Seneca, Axtell and Beattie, the latter at which citizens turned out en masse and a brass band greeted the travelers.
The excursion stopped for the night in Fairbury, Nebraska, which thrived during railroad days but eventually lost its luster as the “Queen City of the Blue Valley.”
After dinner at the Merchants’ Hotel, the guests and their hosts adjourned to the Steel Opera House for speech-making.
The excursion had been arranged by the St. Joseph Commercial Club, and it would not be the last such outing.
In May 1905, a trip would take 65 local businessmen to Abilene, Kansas, on the Union Pacific line. Representatives of the John S. Brittain Dry Goods Co. and the Regnier & Shoup Crockery Co. made St. Joseph’s case for their Kansas hosts. They also brought their own band.
In ensuing years, as automobiles became more prevalent, the St. Joseph tourists took to the road, 50 carloads on one occasion depositing locals in Trenton, Missouri, for what a writer regarded as “town and country fraternizing.”
(The Trenton Commercial Club hosted the gathering, the organization with this motto: “Get acquainted with your neighbor. You might like him.”)
The St. Joseph Commercial Club, housed in its infancy in the 200 block of Edmond Street, would be the forerunner of the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce, which on Saturday hosts its 100th annual banquet.
Times have changed for business outreach. During the excursions early last century, the word “networking” did not get tossed around. Today, even one phone call can get this label.
The fundamentals of this, however, have not changed. A city sells itself. Producers look for a buyers of products. Who you know matters when it comes to what you do.
Members of the Commercial Club knew that in 1901, willing to take a bumpy ride no matter the Pullman comforts and the able porters of the St. Joseph & Grand Island.
Good will counts for something in business. Prosperity, if all else works out, will follow.