The History of Trade Shows Timeline:
Displaying your products in booths has been in practice since bazaars were established in the Middle East. Explore the fascinating history of trade shows in this exclusive timeline!
Published: July 23rd, 2020
Trade shows are one of the most valuable ways you can promote your brand to customers. These advertising events are great opportunities to network with other professionals and stand apart from the competition. You can even go as far as to offer trendy promotional products to really stand out from the crowd. In fact, we strongly encourage it!
Why do businesses promote at trade shows? When was the first trade show? Take a break from decorating your booth and go down memory lane to visit the history of trade shows.
Elkanah Watson organized the first agricultural fair in North America. The Berkshire Cattle Show displayed prized livestock and was a sore spot for local shopkeepers who were losing business.
England became home to the world's first recognized trade show, The Great Exhibition. Hosted by Queen Victoria, this enormous event was a massive success with over 100,000 exhibits and 6 million visitors!
Philadelphia's Centennial Exposition was one of the first World Fairs in U.S. history. Alexander Graham Bell introduced his telephone to the public for the first time at this enormous event.
The International Cotton Exposition was an important way to market new products and services. In fact, Eli Whitney displayed the original model of his cotton gin at this prestigious event.
New York hosted the International Industrial Fair, which went on to become the largest franchise expo in the country. Today, the annual event sees over 400 of the top franchise brands in the country.
Gustav Eiffel designed the Eiffel Tower for the Paris Exposition. This wrought-iron landmark was constructed to commemorate the French Revolution.
Chicago hosted the infamous World's Columbian Exposition. This historical event introduced the first ever Ferris Wheel, which inspired the 196 foot ride currently at Navy Pier. pular in Coshocton, Ohio, leading to a surge in popularity for the industry. Coca-Cola loved ordering these imprinted trays to advertise their business.
Promotional products became a significant part of trade shows, leading to the formation of PPAI. Their first expo had only 32 exhibitors, but the event has since grown to host thousands of distributors from all over the country.
The Golden Gate International Exposition unveiled one of the most recognizable landmarks in America, the Golden Gate Bridge. Chicago's Joseph Strauss was in charge of this colossal achievement.
The Century 21 Exposition had the theme "The Age of Space." This inspired the futuristic design found in Seattle's most iconic landmark, the Space Needle.
The Consumer Technology Association began their annual trade show in Las Vegas. This event features new products in the world of video games, virtual reality, and even self-driving cars!
The World of Concrete hosted their first expo with only 77 presenters. Today, it's one of the leading trade shows for the commercial construction industry.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons hosted their first trade show. This event provides education and improved patient care to musculoskeletal specialists.
Virtual trade shows have changed the way these promotional events operate. They cost significantly less and are becoming increasingly popular with business owners.
Of course, we couldn't rely on donkeys forever, leading to the father of the modern trade show, The Great Exhibition. This giant event was held on May 1,1851 in Hyde Park, London. Great Britain was a leader in technological, industrial, and commercial development. Before this event, however, they had been unable to display their innovation to the rest of the world.
Queen Victoria hosted the entire affair and had the Crystal Palace designed specifically for the occasion. There were over 100,000 exhibits, and merchants and craftsmen traveled from all over the world to attend the event. The fair included musical instruments, guns, pottery, fabric, perfumes, and many other coveted products. Furthermore, great machines and other inventions were on full display to huge crowds of visitors. The point was to bring together the industrial achievements of many nations and get product inspiration across the globe. This exhibition was open for 5 months and had a total of 6 million visitors. Incredibly, that was almost 30% of the population of England at the time!
The Great Exposition showed a profit of an estimated $256,000, which by today's standards is close to $8 million! Overall, the fair was a massive success and demonstrated the progress achieved in fields such as mechanical inventions, machinery, and arts. By and large, these bold ideas helped the British economy and set the momentum for the future of trade shows.
No conversation about trade shows is complete without speaking a bit about the earliest fairs in America. These events had a similar structure, with exhibitors displaying their products and services to a large crowd of people. Like modern trade shows, they also had booths in close proximity to the competition.
In 1810, Elkanah Watson organized the world's first agricultural fair, the Berkshire Cattle Show. Living in a rural society, this was an opportunity for farmers to trade livestock for crops and other commodities. Furthermore, they were able to set themselves apart with the animals on display. In fact, those with the best oxen, cattle, swine, or sheep received prize money of $70, which is a little over $2,000 today.
The Berkshire Cattle Show was an enormous success, and as a result, hard-working store owners were losing money. Customers were getting caught up in the excitement of large fairs and forgetting all about local business. As a result, a group of professionals in Philadelphia attempted to thwart the momentum that followed. These shopkeepers even went as far as to create advertising pamphlets to protest against fairs. Their bitter feelings almost led to riots and authorities had to intervene to keep the peace. As one angry shopkeeper put it: "All sorts of evil and mischief arises from fancy fairs!"
Still, this did nothing to stop fairs from getting even more extravagant in the United States. By 1876, a full 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia hosted the Centennial Exposition. From there, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and other major metropolises hosted their very own World Fairs.
The World Fairs brought in new cultures, introduced groundbreaking inventions, and changed the course of advertising history. Thomas Edison Alexander Graham Bell, and Eli Whitney are just a few of the notable inventors who displayed their products. Even more, national landmarks and cultural icons first came on to the scene, such as the Ferris Wheel, The Golden Gate Bridge, and the Space Needle.
After the success of the World Fairs, more condensed trade shows started popping up all over the world. It took great intuition and imagination to bring these events into the 21st century. At the beginning, trade shows were fairly basic and had limited technology. The average event had 400 exhibitors, all of whom trying to make an impression on the audience. By the mid-1950s, however, trade shows started to become targeted to specific industries. People could attend events that catered to their industry or interests, which allowed these events to grow in popularity. Today, you'll see thousands of trade shows with many exhibitors all competing to win over the crowd.
Bring in the Promos
Businesses all over the world started turning to trade shows to gain attention and display their goods and services for the world. With so many exhibitors, and more and more businesses entering the marketplace, presenters needed a way stand out from the crowd and stay top of mind. As such, it was important for the events to keep growing with new promotional tactics. This is why promotional items, like pens and stress balls, become essential at every booth.
Interestingly enough, promotional products weren't recognizable marketing materials until Jasper Meek printed a logo on a canvas shoe bag in 1886. That was a full 35 years after the Great Exhibition in London! It is rumored that promotional products were used to advertise various products during subsequent World Fairs. However, they weren't yet the promotional necessities they have become until they were used at trade shows.
In 1904, the Promotional Product Association International (PPAI) was founded to address pricing, bylaws, and procedures for the industry. Trade shows officially became part of the association's conventions a decade later with only 32 exhibitors at the show. Today, the PPAI Expo is the promotional products industry's longest running trade show. It has been held in Las Vegas every January for over 100 years!
Trade shows have since expanded from their humble beginnings, but will always be great platforms for showing off your merchandise and getting potential customers to notice your brand. In fact, studies show that the cost of acquiring customers through trade shows is significantly less than any other marketing means. Throw promotional products on top, the number one most effective form of advertising, and you've got a one-two punch of quality branding!
Trading goods has been part of our economy since the beginning of civilization. We have brought this idea to Middle Eastern bazaars, monarch societies in Europe, and into the future with digital trade shows. The world continues to progress forward with bold new products and innovative ideas. As such, we will always need a venue for promoting, creating connections, and finding new clients. No matter where you host your next trade show, there's no denying the ROI of these popular events!
Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world's first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC's logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.
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