When considering the history of trade shows and the concept of exhibiting in general, you must think about how long people have been selling things to one another.
The exchange of goods and services is a fundamental principle of survival that has prevailed throughout history and around the world.
Trade shows or trade fairs probably started with people simply displaying their wares in public places. They took time to talk one-on-one with potential buyers and explained why their offerings were better than others that were available. Then, sellers negotiated a purchase price (or bartered goods or services) until a mutual agreement was met with buyers.
At one time, exhibiting of sorts was one of the only ways to market or sell goods. It likely served as a necessary survival tactic to provide for the wellbeing of families.
According to trade show expert Robert B. Konikow in his book, Exhibit Design, the exhibit industry can trace its roots to the ancient bazaars of the Middle East.
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 1700s, exhibitions became somewhat commonplace in Europe and North America.
Fast forward to today.... Exhibiting is a dynamic industry that continues to change thanks to technological advancements 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 sophisticated. From small street fairs... to multi-million dollar shows in huge exhibition venues... to virtual shows on the web, trade shows remain key to facilitating the exchange of goods and services. No doubt, the concept of exhibiting will stand the test of time.