Exhibition History and how it has evolved

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has wondered how exhibitions first started. Or even how they became a ‘thing’. Big companies from around the world spend huge amounts of money on these types of events. So to share my interested, I have decided to write about the exhibition history and how it has evolved.

I am going to discuss:

  • What is an Exhibition?
  • What does the word exhibition mean?
  • The first exhibition ever
  • How the industry has evolved?

What are exhibitions?

It is an organised event in which companies in a specific industry get to showcase and demonstrate their latest products to potential clients. This is also a great opportunity to meet with industry partners and scout out your competitors.


Only some trade shows or exhibitions open up to the public, while others can only be members of the trade to attend, therefore, trade shows are either classified as ‘public’ or ‘trade events’.

Only a few exhibitions allow both public and trade. For the first few days they will open the show to trade members only, then on the last day or two, they will open up to the public.

These events are generally held annually and attract companies from all around the world! In south Africa alone there are roughly 2000 exhibitions a year. Johannesburg alone holds around 2.5% of them.

What does the word ‘exhibition’ mean?

An exhibition generally means a display of items of interest, held in an art gallery or museum or at a trade fair. However, it could also mean a trade of items/services. As a result, you barter for your needs and wants with what you have to offer.


The first exhibition.

One of the first exhibitions ever held was ‘The Great Exhibition’. It was held in 1851 at the 'Crystal Palace Exhibition' in London. It was the first in a series of World's Fairs, exhibitions of culture and industry that only became popular in the 19th century. Henry Cole and Prince Albert actually organised The Great Exhibition.


How the industry has evolved.

Exhibitions and trade fairs are also linked to late medieval Europe, during the period of merchant capitalism. During this era, farmers and craftsmen traveled to a variety of locales to display and sell their offerings at open-market trade fairs. During the 1700's, they became somewhat commonplace in Europe and North America.


Today exhibiting is a dynamic industry that continues to change and demand for goods from all corners of the globe. From humble, necessary beginnings, the history of trade shows demonstrates a dramatic evolution.

Now sellers and buyers come together at events of all sizes and types from simple to extraordinary. From small street fairs... to multi-million dollar shows in huge exhibition venues. Trade shows remain key to facilitating the exchange of goods and services. No doubt, the concept of exhibiting will be here for the long haul.