From bankers to bakers, beekeepers to bison farmers, tin merchants to tortilla handlers, everyone has an association to call their own. Americans claim individuality with an overstated passion. Yet we choose, quite voluntarily, to band together in more than 7,500 organizations, academies, associations, societies, councils, brotherhoods, institutes, alliances, boards, and leagues, according to the National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States (NTPA). We are witnesses to a virtual epidemic of modern-day collaborations from a nation of self-proclaimed rebels.
In fact of course, trade associations are not new and their origins well pre-date our American Revolution. Craft guilds, merchant associations, common traders banded together in ancient times. China, Egypt, Japan, India, and Rome all possessed trade groups to set wages and prices and foster apprentice training. During the Middle Ages craft and merchant guilds increased in power and developed strict regulations and numerous member services. Before our Civil War most United States’ trade associations were local or regional. The Spermaceti Candlers formed in Rhode Island as early as 1762 and 20 merchants formed the New York Chamber of Commerce, the oldest trade association still in existence in North America, in 1768. The early 1900s saw a steady growth in national business and trade associations due to increasing foreign competition, but also the advantage of sharing ideas and techniques and in consolidating the power to influence others.
Has cooperation and fellowship run amuck though? Is there a trade, industry, or interest group out in the American hinterlands without a formal organization to call its own? Apparently not, judging from the diverse associations listed in the NTPA directory. It may be hard to believe but some among us are dues-paying members of these prestigious organizations:
Accordion Federation of North America, Academy of Accounting Historians, National Society of Mural Painters, Sunglass Association of America, American Association of Railroad Surgeons, Allied Underwear Association, American Alligators Farmers Association, Wild Bird Feeding Institute, American Association of Variable Star Observers, Vinyl Siding Institute (they only call their members at home during suppertime), Tree Ring Society, American Fern Society, The Oxygen Society, Acrylic Council, Third Class Mail Association, Karaoke International Sing-along Association, National Hay Association, AM/FM International (Automated Mapping/Facilities Management, that is), Adhesion Society, and Air Distribution Institute (isn’t that called “wind”?).
Hungry for more? Check out the Association for Dressings and Sauces, Pickle Packers International, American Association of Cereal Chemists, the Vinegar Institute, National Barbecue Association, American Association of Swine Practitioners, and the National Association of Chewing Gum Manufacturers, to name but a few. If some of these food organizations are looking to consolidate, my humble suggestion: merge the Salt Institute with the Popcorn Institute and both with the Paper Bag Institute and have the Leafy Greens Council join the American Blue Cheese Association.
A sampling of professional associations that could make even Dilbert cringe: National Association of Reunion Planners, Society of Company Meeting Planners, Academy of Marketing Science, the National Infomercial Marketing Association, the Fulfillment Management Association, the American Professional Sleep Society, the Sports Turf Managers Association, and of course, the Affiliated Board of Officials.
In the interest of self-preservation, I will totally refrain from questioning society’s need for the American Association of Nurse Attorneys, the American (I-feel-your) Pain Society, the Professional Bail Agents of the United States, or the Aftermarket Body Parts Association (four-wheeled or human variety?).
I’m certain that these organizations serve a worthy purpose and are critical to America’s economic health, well being, and global competitiveness. I just can’t quite rise to their defense right now or I’ll be late for the start of my council meeting.
The Author confesses that, in addition to being addicted to several professional and trade associations, he is a card-carrying member of the New England Moxie Congress.