During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Indianapolis Chamber Of Commerce held a series of industrial exhibitions to promote industry and civic pride throughout the city. Industrial exhibitions were a popular phenomenon throughout the United States and Europe at this period of time. Such events were held to highlight the manufacturing and technological achievements of the Industrial Revolution. 

Indianapolis Water Company display at the Union Station Industrial Exposition, 1946 Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

The Commercial Club, a predecessor to the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, organized a Street Paving Exposition in 1890 to showcase scientific paving methods that could be used to improve Indianapolis’ streets. It was the first such exposition of its kind in the United States.

In the 1920s, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, directly inspired by Cleveland’s Industrial Exposition of 1909, decided to organize its own event to showcase Indianapolis manufacturing. Held in conjunction with the convention of the National Association of Purchasing Agents, the first Indianapolis Industrial Exposition ran from October 10-15, 1921. It was located inside the Manufacturers’ Building at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

An estimated 100,000 visitors attended this event, which featured 383 manufacturers from various industries, including automobiles and automobile accessories, clothing, food products, furniture, meatpacking, metal trades, pharmaceuticals, and retail. Of these exhibitors, the judges’ top prize went to E. C. Atkins and Company, a manufacturer of handsaws, circular saw blades, bandsaw blades, and grinding and cooperage machinery.

The first Indianapolis Industrial Exposition was also remembered for its official slogan, “There’s Less Wobble at the Hub,” as well as its official song “Indianapolis, My Home Town,” which was written by local organist and composer Charles F. Roberts and playwright Henry K. Burton. Both pieces were developed to showcase civic pride.

Success with the first exposition resulted in the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce producing a second one. Held inside the newly constructed Exposition Building at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the second Indianapolis Industrial Expo ran from October 4-11, 1924. While the format from the original event remained the same, the number of exhibitors, visitors (approx. 225,000), activities, and special guests increased. Highlights from this expo included the opening day motor parade from downtown Indianapolis to the Indiana State Fairgrounds and appearances by foreign dignitaries from Britain and Japan.

In November 1946, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce sponsored a permanent Indianapolis Industrial Exposition inside Union Station. Dedication ceremonies for this event were attended by Indiana Governor Ralph F. Gates, Indianapolis Mayor Robert H. Tyndall, and the presidents of six American railroad companies.

Developed to highlight the city’s importance as a manufacturing center in the postwar era, this exhibit featured products from 74 local manufacturing companies. These items, which included aircraft and truck engines, construction machinery, electronic devices, and jewelry, were displayed in aluminum and glass cases intended to simulate the observation cars of streamliner trains.

Built for $100,000, this showcase was the country’s only exposition housed in a railroad station. It operated round-the-clock without break, and thousands of passengers waiting for trains viewed it daily. During winter 1949, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce commissioned an approximately 50-foot, 4-ton Styrofoam “Santa Colossal” to accompany this exhibit. It was chopped up for insulation the following year.

As railroad passenger traffic decreased in succeeding decades, the exhibit was eventually removed from Union Station. Since its closure, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce has not organized another expo of the magnitude of those presented in 1921, 1924, and 1946.

The city, however, does serve as a host for various industry trade shows and conventions every year (see Expositions And Conventions). Most of these events are held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds or the Indiana Convention Center.

Revised March 2021

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