A century ago, long before companies brought their wares to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)—which debuted in 1967 and is currently underway in Las Vegas—futuristic gadgets were unveiled in similarly glitzy fashion at electrical shows held around the country.
The largest exhibitions were held in Chicago and New York. When Chicago’s first annual show—which featured “wireless” messages from President Teddy Roosevelt in Washington D.C. and inventor Thomas Edison in New Jersey—opened in 1906, fewer than 8 percent of U.S. households had electricity. According to Smithsonian, “By 1929, about 85 percent of American homes (if you exclude farm dwellings) had electricity and the early adopters of the 1920s—emboldened by the rise of consumer credit—couldn’t get their hands on enough appliances.”
Like CES does today, the early electrical shows relied heavily on demonstration of everything from electrically driven massagers and sewing machine motors to lighting (the 1909 New York Electrical Show, held in Madison Square Garden, was illuminated by 75,000 incandescent lamps) and the passing of 2,000,000 volts of electricity harmlessly through a man’s body. Manufacturers showed off dishwashers, mechanized milking machines, air ships, radio, and so much more at these shows, which continued until the Great Depression.
[via Smithsonian Magazine]