The History of Auto Shows in Grand Rapids
This coming weekend, it's the 25th Annual Michigan International Auto Show at DeVos Place Convention Center in downtown Grand Rapids. Each year this show gives the public the opportunity to see hundreds of vehicles from more than 35 manufacturers. See everything from trucks, SUVs, electric vehicles, hybrids, and even some pre-production models. But the history of auto shows in Grand Rapids goes back almost 100 years.
Early Auto Shows in Grand Rapids
Auto shows in Grand Rapids have a long and rich history dating back to the early 1900s. The first known auto show in the city was held in 1915 at the Grand Rapids Armory. This event, organized by the Grand Rapids Automobile Dealers Association (GRADA), featured a variety of vehicles from local dealerships, and was a huge success, drawing thousands of attendees.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, auto shows in Grand Rapids continued to grow in popularity. Construction on the Grand Rapids Civic Auditorium (Welsh Auditorium) was completed in 1932. Just a few years after that there was a car show inside the new building for people to check out. These shows typically featured the latest models from major automakers such as Ford, Chevrolet, and Plymouth, as well as luxury brands like Cadillac and Packard.
The Grand Rapids City Archives and Records Center has found a couple of pictures from some of these early car shows at the Civic Auditorium. The first was a Chevrolet Show that was held January 6-13th, 1934...
This car show would have happened during the Great Depression. The general public probably wouldn't have been able to afford a new car like these. If you look closely at the picture you will see several well dressed men and women. Some of the women are even in fur coats.
In June of that same year, there was a General Motors show at the Civic Auditorium. It ran from June 2nd to 9th of 1934...
After World War II, auto shows in Grand Rapids took on a new level of importance. With the return of peace and prosperity, the automobile industry experienced a boom, and auto shows became a major marketing tool for manufacturers. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Grand Rapids Automobile Dealers Association started to organize an annual auto show at the Civic Auditorium. This event, which was held in January, featured the latest models from all of the major automakers, as well as a variety of special displays and exhibits.
Modern Day Auto Shows
The 1970s and 1980s saw a decline in attendance at auto shows in Grand Rapids, as the rise of foreign automakers and increased competition from other forms of advertising took their toll. However, in the 1990s, the GRADA revitalized the auto show by focusing on new models and technologies, and expanding the show to include more interactive exhibits.
In 2023, the 25th Annual Michigan International Auto Show will draw thousands of attendees from the surrounding area, and feature the latest models from major automakers and emerging technologies. The show is February 2-5, 2023 at DeVos Place Convention Center.
New for 2023 will be "Electric Avenue". This will be a section devoted just to electric vehicles of the present and even some from the past, including three vehicles from the Gilmore Car Museum from 1903, 1980, and 1999. The Gilmore Car Museum will also have other vehicles from their collection at the show.
Exotic vehicles will return with possibly the largest indoor display in Grand Rapids history. The modest market value of the 13 cars in the display is over $4.1 million. If you do the math, that would be an average price of $315,000 per vehicle!
You can get additional information on this year's Michigan International Auto Show on their website.