Our History

Goodwill was founded in 1902 in Boston by Rev. Edgar J. Helms, a Methodist minister and early social innovator. Helms collected used household goods and clothing in wealthier areas of the city, then trained and hired those who were poor to mend and repair the used goods. The goods were then resold or were given to the people who repaired them. The system worked, and the Goodwill philosophy of “a hand up, not a hand out” was born.

Dr. Helms’ vision set an early course for what today has become a leading nonprofit organization. Helms described Goodwill Industries as an “industrial program as well as a social service enterprise…a provider of employment, training and rehabilitation for people of limited employability, and a source of temporary assistance for individuals whose resources were depleted.”

Times have changed, but Helms’ vision remains constant. “We have courage and are unafraid. With the prayerful cooperation of millions of our bag contributors and of our workers, we will press on till the curse of poverty and exploitation is banished from mankind.”

Chattanooga Goodwill Industries was founded in 1923 with the assistance of Chattanooga visionary Miriam Acre Brock, wife of William Emerson Brock Sr., founder of Brock Candy Company.   She was also instrumental in the establishment of several other social and religious service organizations in the Chattanooga area including The Wesley Center, which is now The Bethlehem Center.

Page from a 1926 ledger sheet for Chattanooga Goodwill’s first store on E. Main Street (pictured). Chattanooga Goodwill was the first Goodwill in Tennessee and the 25th in the world.

“Goodwill bags, Goodwill bags, fill them up with clothes and rags. Clothes too old for you to wear, and better things that you can spare….Boots and shoes with broken soles, we can tape and patch the holes. Anything that you can send, We can clean, remake or mend.” (Part of a 1930s jingle written to advertise Chattanooga Goodwill’s mission, ‘Not Charity, But a Chance.”

From 1952: Note the prices from local Goodwill stores of the time – a Ladies’ Coat cost 50 cents; Dresses cost 15 cents; a Man’s Hat cost 25 cents; an Overcoat cost $1.00. The store shown was on Broad Street, the second Goodwill facility to open in Chattanooga. The store was located near the current location of Shuptrine’s Gallery.

Rev. Edgar J. Helms, founder of Goodwill Industries
Miriam Acre Brock, founder of Chattanooga Goodwill Industries
Miriam Acre Brock, founder of Chattanooga Goodwill Industries