1909: The Road Show
The construction industry held its first show in Columbus, Ohio, with 40 exhibitors and about 1,000 attendees. Considered a hazardous experiment with all 40 exhibitors displaying new devices that could do the work of 15 horse-drawn carriages. Later changing its name to ConExpo and later joining forces with ConAgg in 1996, ConExpo/ConAgg is now the largest tradeshow in North America, taking place once every three years.
Due to his success decorating fraternity parties in college, Donald S. “Buck” Freeman started the New Idea Service Company in Iowa City, Iowa. Expanding to Freeman Decorating in 1927, Freeman supported the war effort with the spray painting of government barracks and hospitals, airport runway striping and camouflaging services for training airports. Still owned by the Freeman family, the company now produces more than 4,300 expositions annually, including 135 of the 250 largest U.S. tradeshows and 11,000 other events worldwide.
1945: Helen Brett
In a male-dominated industry, Helen Brett became the first woman to become a show manager by happenstance. As a traveling saleswoman for the Sellright Gift Corporation, she decided that instead of competing against fellow colleagues, she would help them. Securing a hotel room to display her merchandise when others had lost their space, she invited five salespeople to join her. Doing well, the same group asked Brett to make arrangements for them again. Word got out about Brett’s successful planning, and in 1946 the first official Helen Brett Gift & Jewelry Show took place in Minneapolis. Brett’s name is now renowned for Gift and Jewelry shows held semi-annually in New Orleans and Memphis.
1953: National Association of Exhibit Managers (NAEM)
The first association of exhibit organizers celebrated its 25th anniversary after establishing local chapters in New York, Chicago and Washington the previous year. Starting as a group of six to eight organizers meeting informally to voice concerns over the industry and share information, the group had a hard time establishing itself over the course of the next two decades. It was difficult to generate interest in the midst of two wars, the stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression. As the industry gained speed, so did the organization, officially changing its name to the International Association for Exhibition Management in 1991. It is now known as International Association of Exhibitions and Events.
1972: TWI Global Exhibition Logistics
Founded by Steven Barry, TWI Global Exhibition Logistics was integral in paving the way for U.S. companies participating in overseas exhibitions. Barry’s was the first American company to create a standardized specialty service for American exhibitors that included overseas transport, foreign importation, delivery to show site, provision of on-site personnel, exportation and re-importation into the U.S. TWI was one of seven founding members of the International Exhibition Logistics Associates (IELA) in 1985. In 2000, the group had around 100 members representing 40 nations on every continent.
Deciding technology should work for the exhibition industry and knowing the Internet would revolutionize the way business is done, The Expo Group launched Cyberservices, a real-time, online ordering service. By offering the service via the Internet, this gave exhibitors the opportunity to place orders 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In April 2003, the company received a patent for the database-driven software that makes Cyberservices possible.