Recently, I was a guest on the History Channel's weekly series "History's Business" where I was asked to discuss AKC and the sport of purebred dogs. In preparation, I did a great deal of reading about AKC’s 120-year history and the individuals who contributed to making the organization and the sport what it is today. In today's business world, where mergers, acquisitions and consolidations are common place, there are very few organizations that can claim to serve the same constituency and have stayed true to their original mission for 120 years. AKC is one of those select few.
Many in the sport may be unaware of the circumstances of AKC's founding and its rich history. It began in 1884 with a meeting of ten sportsmen-- representing 14 individual kennel clubs-- who felt there was a need to bring consistency and continuity to the rules that would govern dog shows in this country. With that meeting on September 17, 1884, the American Kennel Club was born in the City of Philadelphia.
Over the past 120 years, the AKC has had many dynamic and interesting leaders. Notables include, August Belmont, who served as President (not then a paid position) for an amazing 28 years. It is interesting to note that he is the only person who served as the president of both The Jockey Club and the American Kennel Club. In the “real world,” Mr. Belmont was a prominent financier and racehorse breeder, who among other things financed the first NY City subway system. His grandson, also named August Belmont, was AKC Board Chairman in the 1970’s. Another industrialist who served on the AKC Board during its formative years was William G. Rockefeller, an officer of Standard Oil, and brother to John D. Rockefeller. His son, William A., and grandson, William, also served on the AKC Board, the latter as Chairman in the early 1980’s. John Lafore was AKC President after having served two terms in Congress, and the Hon. William Timbers was a Senior Judge, US Court of Appeals-2 nd district, while serving as AKC Board Chairman.
One of the most fascinating anecdotes involves the attempt to seat women as AKC Delegates. The issue first arose in 1952 (68 years after the ten gentlemen organizers first met). The motion failed, and not only did the Delegates vote down a roll call vote, but by voice vote, they kept the count of the secret ballot confidential. I can only imagine what the reaction would be to the same motion today! It took another two decades for the motion to be heard again. Another motion was defeated by 25 votes in a secret ballot in 1973. At least this count was made public. Finally, in March 1979 in a rollcall vote, the amendment passed 180 to 7. One can only assume that there were at least 7 bachelors (or soon to be bachelors) in the Delegate body at the time.
Today, as a result of numerous evolutionary changes and some changes that many would consider revolutionary such as the above, AKC is more open, accountable and responsive to the Fancy than ever before. It wasn’t so long ago that even the AKC Board members were not allowed to keep a copy of Board meeting minutes. They were given a copy, voted to accept them, and gave them back. Eventually, carefully edited minutes with no names on votes were sent to the Delegates with strict instructions that they could not be reproduced. Today, the minutes not only include the votes by name, but also actions being considered by the Board Committees. They are also published in the GAZETTE and posted on the AKC web site. Delegates now have the opportunity to see the voting record of each Director.
There are those in the sport who often speak about the “good old days.” However, a study of our history clearly shows that there were always challenges and controversies. The resolution of these issues brings us to where we are today and ensures that the AKC maintains relevancy with both the fancy and our purebred pet owners. Understanding where we come from and how we got there will go a long way towards helping us to plan for an even better tomorrow.
If you are interested in reading more about AKC's rich history, The American Kennel Club website offers an encapsulated history at www.akc. org/love/hist/index.cfm I hope you’ll be encouraged to learn more about AKC history as well as the beginnings of your own club.