Story of the Week

Posted: 01.15.2012
Making History at the Auto Show
The inaugural Detroit Auto Show, sponsored by the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA), was held in December 1907. The show was at Beller's Beer Garden in Riverside Park on Jefferson Avenue in conjunction with hunting and fishing accessories show. Back in 1907, it only cost 50 cents to attend the show and a total of 33 vehicles were shown by 17 exhibitors. Since then, the show has grown from a regional event into a world-class showcase.


Early Detroit shows were characterized by a decidedly patriotic theme. Note the two Wheeler automobiles on display in the center of the photo.

In 1910, the show moved to the Wayne Gardens Pavilion. In the years that followed, the show became increasingly popular as the demand and interest for automobiles grew. The DADA was continuously forced to find new and larger sites for the show - one year it was held at a lumber plant, the next at a dance hall, then at the Morgan and Wright Bicycle plant. In an ironic twist to shows debut at a beer garden, the 1917 Detroit Auto Show was held at the Billy Sunday Tabernacle tent on the old Detroit Athletic Club Athletic Field, then called Grindley Field, and soon to become the site of Convention Hall near Woodward and Warren. Despite the unusual venue, the shows held here became some of the most successful one year, the interior of the tabernacle tent was decorated to resemble a Japanese garden. Later, the Grindley family completed the permanent Convention Hall in time for the 1924 exhibit, which housed the annual auto shows until the beginning of World War II.

According to Walter J. Bemb, automotive sales pioneer and early president of the DADA, the first shows were surrounded by secrecy. "We would move our display cars into the show auditorium under wraps, and those wraps would stay on until the opening gun sounded.

When the show resumed in 1954, it was held at the Michigan State Fairgrounds at the Convention Hall, which at one time boasted America's largest exposition area on one floor. The Detroit Auto Show remained at the Fairgrounds for two more years before moving to the Detroit Artillery Armory, where it stayed until 1960.


Consumers have always used the Detroit Auto Show to inspect every square inch of the new models on display, as seen in this photo of the Willys stand at the 1954 show.


What a thrill back in 1954, seated behind the wheel of a shiny, new Studebaker Starliner coupe. The stylish Starliner was designed mainly by Robert Bourke.

1957 marked the first year that international auto manufacturers exhibited at the Detroit Auto Show - domestic models from the Big Three now shared floor space with Volvo, German Isetta, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Porsche.

The Detroit Auto Show was renamed the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in 1989. The NAIAS is a showcase for the worlds vehicle introductions and has ushered in the debut of 1,049 total vehicles introductions since 1989.

Some other interesting facts about the NAIAS:

  • More than 75,000 yards of carpet are used for the exhibits and aisles thats enough carpet to cover 750 football fields. And once the show is over, you can purchase the carpet at a reduced price by visiting the Donald E. McNabb Company in Milford.
  • It takes about 10 week to construct the NAIAS. Fifteen years ago, this was accomplished in four days, but todays exhibits are larger and more unique. Some exhibits even have two or more floors.
  •  Some exhibits are actually built twice - once in Europe or Asia as a test-run and then the exhibits are dismantled and shipped overseas to the NAIAS for final construction.
  • Every year, several architectural magazines visit the NAIAS and write about the design of the exhibits, as well as the building techniques used in their construction.
  • More than 1,500 carpenters, stagehands, electricians, Teamsters, riggers and ironworkers are employed full time to construct and dismantle the NAIAS and they typically work 12-14 hour days and include some double shifts.
  • 1,732 people ensure the show's daily operations including: 200 janitorial workers; 500-700 catering personnel; 65 vehicle polishers; 135 car porters, 87 full-time Cobo Center staff members and 20 additional part-time Cobo Center staff members; 75 NAIAS permanent and temporary staff; and 450 auto show security personnel.
  • The NAIAS exhibits are collectively valued in excess of $200 million, excluding the value of the more than 700 vehicles in those exhibits.
The 2012 NAIAS will be held January 14th - 22rd. For more information regarding hours and ticket sales visit www.naias.com.

For more information about other iconic figures, go to MotorCities National Heritage Area at www.motorcities.org.

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