The History of Trade Shows

You could trace just about any form of social connection to much deeper roots and scenes than you would recognize today. Trade shows, and all the forms that it has evolved from, are places of opportunities to network with peers and spread awareness of what you offer to stand out from the competition. These networking events can be traced back in time where humans learned the mutual benefit of trade. While we attend much different shows in the modern world, the remnants of the past can still be recognized today.


3000 BCE

Bazaars established the earliest form of “trade show” in 3000 BCE middle East selling goods like cups and fruit to travellers and locals. Networks sprung up and ancient caravan trade routes were formed.



In the antebellum era of North America in 1810, Elkanah Watson organized the first agricultural fair in Pittsfield Massachusetts, where prized livestock were displayed with the goal of stimulating competition and use of best agricultural practices. Activities for men, women, and children were hosted to involve all of the community.





The world’s first recognized trade show, The Great Exhibition, made its debut in England 1851. Queen Victoria hosted the enormous event of over 100,000 exhibits and about 6 million visitors. If you were to attend this very show today, you would see brand new technology in moving machinery, scientific instruments, and even telegraphs, microscopes, and surgical equipment.




Alexander Graham Bell introduced a brand new invention, the telephone, to the public for the first time at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition, one of the first World Fairs in U.S. history.





New York hosted the first International Industrial Fair, a the largest franchise expo where today the annual event hosts over 400 of the top brands in the country. In the same year, Gustav Eiffel designed the Eiffel Tower for the Paris Exposition, an international show that was an international success and one of the few world’s fairs to make a profit at that time. The fair attracted exhibits from Europe, South America, and the United States. This exhibition was so influential in its exposure to culture that it can be directly traced to the turning point in the history of French music and modern music today.




The first ever Ferris Wheel was introduced at the World’s Columbian exposition. At the same show, customized metal trays to advertise business were used leading to a surge in the industry. Coca-Cola was one of the many businesses ordering imprinted trays to host with.





The first expo of the PPAI, the Promotional Products Association International, had only 32 exhibitors but over time the event has grown to host more than 15,000+ companies.





The Consumer Technology Association had the very first of the now-annual trade show in Las Vegas where new technology in the video game and virtual reality industry are featured.





There’s a trade show for everything! Even concrete. The Word of Concrete had their first event where 77 exhibitors display their concrete and masonry products. Modern day, this show is one of the leading trade shows for the commercial construction industry.





The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons hosted their first trade show in San Francisco. This show gives medical professionals an exhibitors the opportunity to learn about the latest industry trends and medical advancements.





Stone Expo and Tile Expo joined forces o create the largest trade show in the floor industry at the International Surface Event where premiere flooring, stone, and tile are presented.





Welcome to the future! Virtual trade shows are in their infancy and are already changing the way we host events. The benefits of a virtual trade show have lead to a splurge of shows where people can attend from the comfort of their home all over the world.


And as the world is turning, so are the faces of trade shows. Social connection and mutual benefit of networking will always be a fundamental aspect of the connecting with others and sending out your message.


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