The mammoth construction equipment trade show now known as CONEXPO-CON/AGG has a rich history that parallels and embodies the evolution of the highway and heavy construction industry and its machinery.
It all started in 1909, at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus with the Road Show of the American Road Builders Association (ARBA). Held as a sidelight to the ARBA Convention, it was the world’s first construction industry trade show. Forty exhibitors in an area that many large single exhibitors now exceed showed state-of-the-art steam (as in steam-powered) rollers, 8-ton capacity dump wagons and concrete mixers capable of churning out 8 cubic yards an hour! Salesmen also showed static and operating scale models of machinery.
The event became simply The Road Show. While held irregularly and at different locations, the opportunities it presented for manufacturers to introduce attendees to the newest machinery as technology advanced led to growth in size and attendance.
In 1929, The Road Show came into its own, overshadowing the ARBA Convention. Held at the Cleveland Armory, some $5 million worth of exhibits arrived in or on roughly 500 railroad cars. While the 1932 show in Detroit was noted for its depression-induced lack of heavy equipment, trucks, smaller equipment and road materials dominated.
Back in Cleveland, the 1936 show introduced motion pictures as sales tools for many exhibitors, with one even setting up a small theater! The 1938 show, again in Cleveland, was the first with outdoor space, a total of 6 acres indoors and out, with attendees from 26 countries.
Ending an eight-year hiatus due to World War II, the 1948 show at Soldier Field in Chicago was a landmark. More than 1,000 carloads of machinery worth $15 million was viewed in 770,000 square feet by 63,000 attendees from 40 countries, and it was the first of a run of shows in Chicago that gave it the name Chicago Road Show.
Expansion beyond road construction inspired a name change to the Construction Equipment Exposition in 1960, finally ConExpo in 1975, the last to be held in Chicago. The current run of appearances in Las Vegas began in 1987, with 308 exhibitors, 907,000 square feet and 115,000 attendees.
A discussion of the equipment innovations introduced at CONEXPO and the Road Shows would require an entire book. But if a machine was new on the market, especially if it introduced a technological breakthrough like the first truck-mounted crane (1920), Hug Roadbuilder construction truck (1932), the world’s largest crawler tractors of their time (1948), the Koehring 505 hydraulic backhoe and Skooper hydraulic shovel (1963), Michigan 675 wheel loader (1975) or Cat D7E electric drive crawler tractor (2008), you could count on it being at the show.
The Historical Construction Equipment Association (HCEA) is a 501(c )3 non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of the construction, dredging and surface mining equipment industries. With over 3,500 members in a dozen countries, our activities include operation of National Construction Equipment Museum and archives in Bowling Green, Ohio; publication of a quarterly magazine, Equipment Echoes, from which this text is adapted, and hosting an annual working exhibition of restored construction equipment. Individual memberships are $35.00 within the USA and Canada, and $55.00 US elsewhere. Our next International Convention and Old Equipment Exposition will be September 22-24, 2023, in Bowling Green, Ohio. We seek to develop relationships in the equipment manufacturing industry, and we offer a college scholarship for engineering students. Information is available at www.hcea.net ,or by calling 419-352-5616 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org .