Forty days after the formation of the Commercial Club (now the Chamber of Commerce) in 1890, its officers, including president Col. Eli Lilly and secretary William Fortune, hosted the nation’s first street paving exposition. 

Members believed that progress for Indianapolis depended upon improvements to its streets. To that end, they invited major street paving contractors and manufacturers of paving materials to present their services and wares as well as educate Indianapolis citizens in “rational” or scientific paving methods. Up to this time, the city had tried many different types of pavements ranging from macadamization (crushed stone) to Nicholson block (woodblock pavement), with most failing the test of time.

The exposition, April 1-5, 1890, marked the beginning of modern street paving in Indianapolis. Held in Tomlinson Hall, it featured 55 exhibitors and attracted representatives from 40 cities. 12,000 people attended the event.

Vendors explained the merits of paving products including brick, clay, crushed stone, and Indiana limestone blocks. As a result of this display, the number of miles of asphalted city streets nearly tripled in 1891. The exposition also established the beginning of a public-private partnership between the Commercial Club and the city.

Revised March 2021

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