16 artifacts in this set
Auto shows were inspired in part by expositions staged by bicycle manufactures in the late 19th century. This New York show, held in January 1900, featured a mix of bicycles and automobiles. As the cover suggests, cars at the time were status symbols for the wealthy. Other city-dwelling Americans were still on bikes.
The November 1900 New York Auto Show is considered the first major all-automobile show in the United States. Manufactures like Winton, Haynes and Packard displayed 34 different models at Madison Square Garden. Suppliers like B.F. Goodrich rounded out the exhibits. For Manhattan's well-to-do, it was a place to see and be seen. This program is from the following year's show.
Every major American city hosted its own auto show in the first decades of the 20th century. While these early events often featured food and musical performances, the public thought of them as serious trade shows rather than amusements. Visitors went to study the latest automotive developments, not to be entertained.
Program, "Duquesne Garden 5th Annual Automobile Show," Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 25- April 8, 1911
Pittsburgh's fifth annual Duquesne Garden Automobile Show was split into two distinct events: the Commercial Division for business customers, and the Pleasure Vehicle Division for private owners. The car had not yet become an everyday necessity in 1911 and was still widely considered a recreational plaything.
"Freedom" was a constant theme in early automobile advertising. Cars gave owners the freedom to travel where they wanted, when they wanted. The concept is made quite literal on the cover of this program from the 1912 Toledo Auto Show. Two thrill-seekers, excited in their chauffeur-driven town car, outrun a policeman on a bicycle.
Naturally, Detroit's auto show is among the oldest in the United States. The 1919 event took place in the Crosstown Garage Building -- a downtown parking garage. The show was pushed back to March rather than its usual January timeslot. Manufacturers, returning to civilian production from war work, could not get their new models ready any sooner.
In contrast to larger auto shows aimed at the mass market, smaller salon-style shows catered to an exclusive and well-heeled clientele. New York's Automobile Salon featured prestigious American automakers like Cadillac, Duesenberg, Packard and Lincoln alongside posh European marques like Benz, Hispano Suiza, Isotta Fraschini and Rolls-Royce.
Depending on size, auto shows were held in various venues. Smaller salon-style shows, which catered to wealthy customers, might be held in an elegant hotel. The largest shows took place at big-city convention centers. Mid-size shows in mid-size cities occupied any suitable building -- like the armory that hosted Albany's 1922 event.
Auto shows often were staged by local dealers' groups or trade associations. The Baltimore Automobile Trade Association sponsored Charm City's 1925 show. Manufacturers and dealers weren't the only exhibitors at these shows. Aftermarket suppliers participated as well. Note the ad for Amoco Gas in this program.
Chicago's auto show traditionally has been one of the largest. From 1901 to 1935 the event took place at the city's Coliseum. The International Amphitheatre housed the show from 1936 to 1961. McCormick Place took over as host in 1962.
Spring has long been a favorite season for auto shows. Before enclosed cars and improved roads became common in the 1920s, many drivers simply put their cars away for the winter. The return of warmer weather in March put people into the driving -- and buying -- mood once again.
By 1956 New York considered its auto show a national event. It certainly was -- and remains -- one of the largest and most important. Chrysler was there in force with its "Forward Look" cars. Introduced for 1955, the "Forward Look" was characterized by longer and wider bodies, two and three-tone paint jobs, and -- starting with 1956 models -- tailfins.
There's more than a little civic boosterism involved in hosting an auto show -- note Chicago's modest description of its event as the "world’s greatest." A successful show attracts thousands of visitors, many of whom spend money in local restaurants, stores and hotels -- and later at local dealerships.
The New York Auto Show moved to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in 1987. The new home featured prominently on that year's program cover. The building's façade was echoed by the celebrated "coffin nose" on a Cord 812 -- a model introduced at the New York Auto Show some 50 years earlier.
No city loves its cars quite like Los Angeles. Its annual auto show has been a fixture since 1907. Environmental concerns were at the forefront in the 1990s, and "Automobiles and the Environment" was the subject of a conference at the 1998 LA Auto Show. Hybrid and all-electric vehicles were among the topics discussed.
Auto shows continue to be held in cities around the world, but most press attention is focused on major shows in five cities: Frankfurt, Geneva, Paris, Tokyo and Detroit. The Motor City's show has taken place nearly every year since 1907. Initially focused on domestic manufacturers, the event was renamed as the North American International Auto Show in 1989.