Our comparative business historical examination of industry associations aims to enrich the under-theorized study of this distinctive type of meta-organization. We compare two New Zealand industry associations operating in the same supply chain but with differing degrees of associative capacity and types of external architecture. Our analysis of these associations builds on two strands of theory that rarely communicate with each other: New Institutional Economics (NIE) and Organizational–Institutional Theory (OIT). We demonstrate how NIE describes the structural potentialities for associational strength, while OIT addresses the relational context within associations. In turn, NIE’s examination of external influences reinforces OIT suggestions that associations which are rich in social capital can become developmental in orientation. Our historical analysis supplies fresh theoretical insights into industry associations, thereby addressing conceptual issues of interest to management scholars who study bridging-type organizations. On this basis, we argue that business history and organization studies complement each other.