The Greater Akron Trade Exposition was a carnival of consumerism.
Sponsored by the Akron Junior Chamber of Commerce, better known as the Akron Jaycees, the noisy, gaudy show featured dancers, acrobats, singers, puppeteers, jugglers, animal acts, chorus girls, roller skaters, pantomime artists and even a stilt walker while promoting local products in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
“The primary purpose of the exposition is to instill pride in the community in the various products made in the Akron area,” explained show chairman George W. Brittain, a First National Bank vice president, before the inaugural expo in the winter of 1948.
Many local residents weren’t even aware of some of the first-class goods being built or distributed in Akron, he said.
“Proud citizens are the best salesmen of any community,” Brittain said. “As a civic project, the Junior Chamber wants to present Akron area manufacturers with an opportunity to display their products … show how they provide jobs for our people … how they contribute to progress and better living.”
The first exposition was held over eight days from Jan. 11-18, 1948, at East Market Gardens, a ballroom usually reserved for Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and other big orchestras.
Local companies decorated more than 70 blinking, whirring, animated booths. Akron tire factories were conspicuous in their absence, declining to attend because they didn’t want to overshadow the smaller manufacturers.
That left plenty of room for such businesses as the Adjusta-Post Manufacturing Co., Air-Flo Compressor Co., H.B. Custer Venetian Blind Co., Galat Packing Co., Gassy’s Auto Supplies, Kamen Soap Products Co., Kool Vent Metal Awning Co., Tel-O-Post Co. and U-Need-A Storm Window Co.
Brittain said the animated displays would “make every booth a show all by itself,” and called it “the greatest exhibition of local products in Akron’s history.” Mayor Charles Slusser agreed, praising the expo as “one of the most worthy projects sponsored in our community for some time.”
The show ran from 1 to 11 p.m. Sundays and 3 to 11 p.m. other days. Admission was 35 cents for adults, 15 cents for children and free to kids 12 or younger.
Entertainment was continuous on the main stage. Bandleaders Harold Nelson, Ross Halamay and Frankie Reynolds led local orchestras, and Akron radio stations WADC, WAKR and WHKK broadcast live. Special events included fashion shows, beauty contests and industrial exhibits.
Dr. Craig Earl, star of the ABC radio program “Professor Quiz,” was a celebrity guest. On the final day of the show, he presented a live, coast-to-coast broadcast from the M. O’Neil Co. auditorium.
Oh, there were products, too.
Elevator Sales & Service Co. demonstrated the Inclinator, a mini elevator for stairs, and the Elevette, an elevator that could fit in a closet.
The Akron Floors Co. showed off Modernfold doors, accordion-style partitions to divide rooms into smaller areas.
Sun Plastics introduced the plexiglass See-Ur-Mail, a transparent mailbox that was “A Mailman’s Delight!”
The Ohio Bell Telephone Co. displayed an automobile telephone, a modern marvel that combined a portable radio with a standard telephone system.
The Electronic Engineering Co. unveiled the Seeburg 200 Select-O-Matic Library, a machine that played 200 standard records for 14 hours straight.
TV gets noticed
Lawrence Morgan, a representative of the Commercial Television Corp., installed a “television theater,” setting up 50 chairs around a console and letting the public view programs. Only a few hundred TV sets were operating in Akron in early 1948 so expo visitors could be forgiven for gawking.
After the trade expo attracted more than 32,000 visitors, the Jaycees planned a bigger event the next year.
The 1949 show expanded to 10 days, Jan. 14-23, and moved to Akron Municipal Airport’s Hangar No. 1, formerly Plant E at Goodyear Aircraft Corp., which had room for 150 booths.
The Kistler Baking Co. demonstrated the “radar sandwich,” which used infrared rays to heat sandwiches sealed in cellophane.
Whitmore Kitchens displayed the Waste King Pulverator in which garbage wastes, including bones, “could be easily whisked away.”
The San-Hygene Upholstery Co. stuffed a bottle with carpet tacks and invited visitors to guess how many. Ada Hensley won a chair when she guessed the exact number: 4,038.
B.J. Geist, who had won a 1948 Colonial Salt raffle for a year’s supply of salt, returned to the 1949 expo. Darned if he didn’t win another year of salt.
Despite the Jaycees' lofty goals, only 20,000 people attended the second expo.
“We would have liked to have had a lot more people there, of course, but the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the exhibitors generally were pleased,” Brittain said.
The Jaycees moved the 10-day show back to East Market Gardens in February 1950 and held it there in February 1951, too. Both events attracted about 20,000 each.
The highlight of the 1950 expo was the wedding of Richard D. Yeater, 22, and Carol Schueller, 19, who received $1,000 in appliances, glassware, silverware and furniture. A local jeweler provided their wedding rings, and the happy couple enjoyed more than 50 years together.
At the 1951 show, University of Akron freshman Loretta Harrold was crowned Miss Greater Akron, Edward J. Rennells won a brand-new Nash Rambler and a weirdo got his jollies.
A prankster telephoned several housewives to tell them that they were the lucky winners of $50 in lingerie and inquired about their sizes and favorite colors. When they arrived at the expo to claim their prizes, they learned it was a hoax.
Per usual, the 1951 expo had a television theater, but it wasn’t alone. Also offering TV sets at their booths were the Akron Theater Supply Co., Curt Collins Co., Federman’s, L & M Electric Shop, Ace Furniture Co., Roop Electric and Sica Television.
The rising popularity of television could explain why the 1952 Greater Akron Trade Expo was the finale. The show was reduced to eight days, March 14-21, and moved to the Akron Armory because East Market Gardens had turned into a bowling alley.
Buchtel student Alese Brooks was crowned Miss Greater Akron, Peter Lagios won the city table-tennis title and Rose’s Dog Town Revue performed.
There were only 49 booths ranging from pest control to hearing aids to household paint. The final expo attracted only about 12,000 people.
Everyone else was probably at home watching TV.
The Akron Jaycees, who had won national awards for sponsoring the trade show, pulled the plug.
The Greater Akron Trade Exposition went out of business.
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.