Electric cars like the Chevy Volt and the (well reviewed
) Nissan Leaf are the talk
of this year’s Chicago Auto Show
, the largest and longest running automobile showcase this fine land has to offer. Each year in February, over 1 million people saunter around 1.3 million square feet of McCormick Place floor space, surveying the latest innovations in car manufacturing and design. I was pretty bored by the whole spectacle the few times I attended as a teen, but for many locals, the auto show is one highlight of the city’s often depressing winter.
Chicago’s first show, held all the way back in 1901 at the Chicago Coliseum
, was a bit smaller in scale than the current iteration; it included roughly 65 “horseless carriages” and one 20-foot-wide indoor track for demonstrations. “It is the intention of the management,” the Tribune
reported on the eve of the show, “to show the progress and evolution in the motors used to propel vehicles from the old style, cumbersome, slow acting shafts to the compact and powerful machines now in use.”
How avant garde was that initial exhibit? The year before, there were a mere 8,000
registered cars in the entire nation. The conference took place just three months after a one-armed mechanic named Patillo Higgins
struck black gold at the Spindletop
oilfield in East Texas, launching the modern petroleum industry. I imagine that discovery looked something like this:
Whether prescient or just serendipitous, Chicago got into the auto show game at the right time. Fifteen years later, with fuel cheap and plentiful, Henry Ford and company would crank out 1 million cars annually. And S.A. Miles, the manager of National Automobile Shows, estimated
that the city netted $1,000,000 (about $20 million in 2009) for its efforts.