The St. Gallen-Appenzell Chamber of Commerce and Industry has existed for 555 years. This is how she shaped eastern Switzerland.
Together with its predecessor organizations, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK) St. Gallen-Appenzell not only maintained a postal and courier service. She also established telegraphy and founded several educational institutions such as today’s University of St. Gallen. In addition, the IHK made a significant contribution to the expansion of the railway network.
Today, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce provides impetus to keep Eastern Switzerland competitive as an economic area and attractive as a place to live.
The IHK St. Gallen-Appenzell is celebrating its 555th anniversary these days, with a one-year delay due to the pandemic. It is by far the oldest chamber of commerce in Switzerland and probably one of the oldest in the world. The oldest list of members is dated August 15, 1466.
“Today, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce is providing impetus to keep Eastern Switzerland competitive as an economic area and attractive as a place to live,” said Markus Bänziger, Director of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, on a city tour past historically important places.
Moved to St. Gallen as craftsmen
The history of the IHK is closely linked to that of St. Gallen. The city grew around the monastery founded in 719. Above all, craftsmen and traders who settled here established an export trade in the late Middle Ages and were very successful with the linen trade.
Merchants founded the “Society of the Notenstein” in the first half of the 15th century. They then intensified their cooperation: from 1480 a regular postal and courier service has been handed down with Nuremberg, and from 1560 also with Lyon.
The professional organization
In 1637, the St. Gallen merchants founded an actual professional organization with the Commercial Directorate. This took over economic and political tasks not only for the city, but for the entire Swiss Confederation. The organization conducted negotiations with foreign rulers to secure customs privileges, including 1553 for trade with France.
The economic network of Eastern Switzerland
Today, the IHK St. Gallen-Appenzell is the leading business network in eastern Switzerland. It represents around 1,600 companies from the region. According to its statutes, the IHK is committed to a competitive, environmentally friendly market economy. It supports its members in the export business, promotes foreign trade, education and training and technology transfer.
IHK director Markus Bänziger and Dorothee Guggenheimer, co-director of the city archive and the Vadian collection of the local community of St. Gallen, have invited on the occasion of the 555th anniversary on a journey through the history of the IHK and led to locations of historical importance.
Other manufacturers and entrepreneurs founded the St. Gallen trade and industry association in 1875. Their aim was to promote foreign trade and to influence legislation. The trade and industry association of St. Gallen and the commercial directorate merged in 1991 to form the IHK St. Gallen-Appenzell.
Rapid growth thanks to the textile industry
Around 1860, a good 20,000 people lived in St. Gallen. A good 50 years later, the city already had around 75,000 people. The reason for this growth was the labour-intensive «embroidery boom». In the decades before the First World War, more than 50 percent of the embroidery worldwide came from St. Gallen.
The IHK also had a significant impact on various facets of this era. She played a key role in setting up an embroidery exchange in what is now the Multertor building.
Telegraph and Banking Pioneers
The IHK also campaigned for telegraphy. Around 1850 all the surrounding countries up to the Swiss border had erected telephone poles. Only in Switzerland it didn’t go any further. The IHK initiated a petition to the Federal Council and played a key role in financing the implementation. As early as the following year, the first telephone poles were up in St. Gallen.
Also in the 19th century, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce co-founded a note and slip bank. In 1837, the canton of St. Gallen became the second place in Switzerland to have a cantonal bank. It was called “Bank in St. Gallen”.