July 14, 2024 1:38 PM
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Bob.McGlincy Tradeshow Times
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Coming Soon: The Evolution of Tradeshows

by Bob McGlincy

Today US tradeshows are a hundred-billion-dollar industry that attract over eighty million attendees a year. Tradeshows promote brands, sell products, and generate tax revenues. Tradeshows create millions of jobs and transform empty convention centers into magical marketing extravaganzas.

This “invisible industry” is truly amazing! But did you ever stop and wonder, how are the shows produced? Where did the companies come from? Who does the actual work?

A Brief History of Trade Show Companies in the US

Prior to World War I, mega-exhibits and tradeshows were principally a part of world’s fairs. Smaller exhibits were found at farm shows, state fairs, museums, hotels, and in department store windows. Installation labor was provided by the show organizers, the contractors constructing the convention halls, the venues, or sometimes by the companies building the exhibits—cabinet makers, window dressers, decorators, sign makers, flag makers, the retail display builders, or companies themselves.

Hotels held small events in meeting rooms and banquet halls. Larger arenas at the time, like Madison Square Garden and the Chicago Coliseum, primarily hosted sporting, entertainment, and political events. As the number of associations, tradeshows, and venues, increased, so did the demand for companies and people to produce live events. This trend expanded dramatically during the twentieth century, starting with a few early pioneers.

Brede, Fern, Shepard, Freeman, and GES

  1. Possibly the first General Service Contractor in the country, Brede started in Massachusetts in 1898. The founder’s son, Bill, opened a rental furniture business in the ‘20s, and is credited with inventing “pipe and drape” on the show floor. Brede purchased Exhibit Aids in the ‘70s, partnered with Allied Convention Services in the ‘80s, and was acquired by The Expo Group in 2020.

To Be Continued…



To read this full story, please grab a copy of the Quarter 1 Print for Exhibit City News coming in January. A copy of the print will be available digitally through ISSUU, link forthcoming. The full article will be posted online later in January or February, for digital consumption.

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