Today is the 159th anniversary of the closing of the world’s first trade show… well, maybe.
Saying something was “The First” is a dubious undertaking. For proof, visit a tech venture capitalist’s boardroom, and pitch your “first of its kind website”. Then, ask for a cushion on which s/he will toss you out! New products or events almost always have forerunners and competition.
Bazaars like Khan el-Khalili have been around for 600 years, but strictly speaking... it's not a trade show.
So, who are the parents of trade shows? Marketplaces have existed throughout the world for millenia. Bazaars also have been around for centuries. “Khan el-Khalili (Arabic: خان الخليلي)… in the Old City of Cairo” may be the oldest, dating back to 1382. Istanbul‘s Grand Bazaar (KapalıÇarşı, or Covered Market) also is one of the most prominent predecessors to the modern shopping mall, all the way back in 1461.
However, bazaars and marketplaces were not trade shows. It’s not a trade show when someone puts a roof over a business district. To clarify, I will define a trade show and emphasize some of their positive and negative characteristics.
1. All Together — Trade Shows gather artisans, innovators, and manufacturers to present their products.
2. In One Place — Trade Shows take place in a centralized location, usually, but not exclusively, indoors.
3. The Next Big Thing – Attendees come to see new and exciting technologies, products, and services from the exhibitors, some with the focus on buying the new products.
4. Limited Time – Trade Shows are usually temporary events, maybe only for a day, maybe much longer.
5. See You Next Year – Trade Shows are routine events, happening sometime annually.
6. Time and Money – Trade Shows require huge resources to organize and create.
So, what was “The First Trade Show”? How can Event Organizers learn from it and thereby create better events? Does it warn us about pitfalls that many trade shows fall into?
I consider “The Great Exhibition” (an event sponsored in part by Queen Victoria of Great Britain and her husband Prince Albert) in Hyde Park of London, England to be “The First Trade Show” (Should it be “The First Trade Fair”? Maybe, since it’s in Europe!). It was the forerunner of World’s Fairs, World Expos, and the Event Industry of the 21st Century.
What made the event so influential as the predecessor to the thousands of industry trade shows and convention centers worldwide? The design certainly helped! This event is sometimes called the Crystal Palace Exhibition, for the glass and metal structure created to house it. Don’t you think it may have inspired some architects of Convention Center lobbies around the world? Maybe the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando? Could be!
It opened May 1, 1859, and it closed on October 15th of the same year. It fits into all of the six characteristics above (even #6 since the Crystal Palace was disassembled and rebuilt in another region of Greater London, three years later). The event was an incredible spectacle, unlike anything else of its time.
And what can Event Organizers learn from it? In the next couple weeks, follow this blog to see how we can learn from the Crystal Palace Exhibition.
We will use the above list of six main characteristics of trade shows. With the Crystal Palace Exhibition as a reference point, we will see what aspects should be repeated, as well as learn from its mistakes. Starting on Monday, we will look at Characteristic #1: Trade Shows gathered artisans, distributors, and manufacturers to present products to a large audience.
Please keep watching… and have a Truly successful day!