A brief history of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia


The Citizens' Business is not primarily that of taxpayer, but of trust beneficiary; ...and, without clamor or partisan bias, to aid in the conservation and development of Philadelphia's resources and to promote the intelligent and efficient management of the great corporation in which every citizen is a stockholder and every officer [elected official] is a trustee.

--Business Methods in Public Business, Bureau of Municipal Research, 1910

The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to research and analysis of the region's resources and challenges with the goal of promoting sound public policy and increasing the region's prosperity. Our commitment to the prosperity of the region began during the era of Progressivism when the Bureau of Municipal Research, the Economy League's predecessor, was chartered in 1909. It was, as described by the editor of the Evening Bulletin in January 1912,

a local agency of a few private citizens who employ experts in what may be called municipal knowledge to examine into [sic] municipal affairs, with a view to getting rid of antiquated, clumsy, slipshod, or extravagant ways of doing things and substituting, as far as possible, modern ones  -  system, precision, competency, and economy - not the economy which merely saves by reducing expenses, but which, rather, accomplishes a desired result along the simplest and best lines.[1]

The Bureau's founders and first trustees, George Woodward, William C. Bullitt, Cyrus H. K. Curtis, Samuel S. Fels, and Edward R. Wood, among other business leaders of the day, were inspired by the development in 1906 of a similar organization in New York City. In 1908, a "Philadelphia office" of the Bureau of Municipal Research of New York opened. By 1909, sufficient fiscal support was gathered to establish an independent Philadelphia organization. The Bureau took pains to emphasize its "continuity" - that being its establishment outside city government with private support - as an aid to officeholders of any political persuasion or administration. A great number of citizen or reform associations were organized in response to Tammany politics and similar abuses of office, but "research bureaus"[2] were the first to take a "non-partisan and scientific" stance and offer solutions based on facts and analysis rather than "harrow officers" with "bonfires and manifestoes."[3]

The Bureau of Municipal Research issued frequent publications; some were policy recommendations on topics ranging from public health to administrative practices, others were economic studies, for example "The Cost of a Workingman's Standard of Living in Philadelphia at August 1920 Prices." For the public, the Bureau published "Citizens' Business," a weekly pamphlet of summaries of policy prescriptions and research. In 1917, an annual subscription cost $0.50 for 50 issues. We publish Citizens' Business today as a free monthly email newsletter. Click here to view a selection of quotations from the archives.

In 1936, the statewide Pennsylvania Economy League was incorporated "to cut wasteful government spending." As a result of the Great Depression, state and local governments nationwide were amending their financial and administrative mechanisms to handle the new responsibilities of social welfare and economic needs. After World War II, they entered a period of adjustment and recovery, and the Pennsylvania Economy League reinforced its role of a fiscal and administrative advisor, including its oversight of the drafting and implementation of Philadelphia's 1950 home rule charter.

The Bureau of Municipal Research and the Pennsylvania Economy League merged in 1954, and the new organization was called the Pennsylvania Economy League - Eastern Division. In addition to its central offices in Philadelphia, the League operated county committees in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties. During the 1960s and early 1970s, social services programs expanded with the increase of federal dollars, and the Economy League continued to focus on cost-effective government service and, increasingly, the competition for industrial expansion and relocation spreading across the nation. During the 1980s into the following decade, the Economy League began placing more emphasis on comprehensive, long term studies in addition to "day-to-day" consulting services for state and local governments and other organizations.

Taking a more expansive view allowed the Economy League to begin looking at policy concerns in the context of the Greater Philadelphia region, a complex network of local governments, businesses, and civic organizations. In 2000, the Economy League shifted its focus to lead efforts to proactively identify research areas and initiatives benefiting the region as well as to serve as an incubator for new projects and civic organizing, such as the Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange. The Eastern Division was incorporated as an independent LLC of the statewide organization, Pennsylvania Economy League, Inc. in 2005 and was renamed Pennsylvania Economy League - Southeastern PA. To better reflect its emphasis on the prosperity of the region, which includes southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware, the organization changed its name in January 2007 to the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.



References

Gillam, M. S. & Toll, J.B. (Eds.). (1995). Invisible Philadelphia: Community through voluntary organizations. Philadelphia: Atwater Kent Museum.

Ideas Into Realities: The Pennsylvania Economy League. (n.d.) Pennsylvania Economy League.

The First Fifty Years:  A history of PEL. (1985). Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Economy League State Division.

"The Weights and Measures Situation in Philadelphia." (1911). Report No. 1. Philadelphia: Bureau of Municipal Research of Philadelphia.

Weigley, R. F. & Wainwright, N. B., et al. (1982). Philadelphia: A 300-year history. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.



[1] Reprinted in Citizens' Business #25, n.d.

[2] According to the undated pamphlet "What is the Bureau of Municipal Research of Philadelphia?" New York, Cincinnati, and Memphis each had a Bureau of Municipal Research, and "Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Hoboken, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Rochester, San Francisco, Seattle, and other cities have taken steps to establish similar organizations."

[3] "Business Methods in Public Business: Purposes and Program of the Bureau of Municipal Research of Philadelphia" (1910), p. 4.