Pressing On ... To Chicago!

As the 91st edition of GRAPH EXPO convenes, I’m reminded that trade shows are by no means a new marketing concept. Some religious scholars contend that merchant fairs existed as early as 600 B.C. According to Wikipedia, modern trading fairs follow in the tradition of those established in late medieval Europe, when farmers and craft producers visited towns to showcase and sell their food and wares. Since the late 18th century, industrial exhibitions in Europe and North America have reflected the technological dynamism of the Industrial Revolution.

For the printing trades, the precursor to GRAPH EXPO traces its roots to the Roaring ‘20s (1920, to be precise), when the event was called the Graphic Arts Exposition. It was held in the old Chicago Coliseum, not far from present-day McCormick Place, in conjunction with the annual convention of the International Association of Printing House Craftsmen. I know this bit of print trade show history thanks to Joe Rickard, “Sales Clinic” columnist for Printing News and a training consultant. (You can read his column on page 14.) Rickard’s grandfather-in-law was A.F. “Gus” Oakes, VP of the Charles Francis Press, which was based in New York City. From the 1880s through the 1930s, this firm was one of the nation’s largest printers, according to 50-year industry guru Frank Romano.

Ninety years ago, Oakes, his GM John Morrison, “machinery man” George Swart (George Swart and Co.), and publicity/ad man George Oxley embarked on a two-week, 2,100-mile journey in a chauffeured Packard to attend the second annual Graphic Arts Expo. In the early 20th century, travel logistics could prove challenging, to say the least. Airplane travel wasn’t yet commercialized and road infrastructure was inferior. (My uncle remembers mending multiple flat tires on a 50-mile trek “to the country” in the mid-1930s.)

I remember phone books, but not prohibition

In a journal, the New York foursome recalled staying in “the expensive suite in the Congress Hotel” and venturing out one evening to meet up with a friend, Ed Bartlett, at the Blackstone Hotel. (This was only two years after the prohibition of alcohol had begun in the U.S.) In a room-number mix up, Oakes barged in on two “young men with a bottle of rye between them. Gus walked to the table and, taking hold of the bottle, [deadpanned], ‘Pretty good hooch, bottled in bond .... By the way, don’t you know that the prohibition act is being enforced in Chicago?’” Once the joke was revealed, one of the surprised drinkers exclaimed, “‘Gosh, you’d make a peach of a prohibition inspector,’” to which Oakes replied, “‘Hell, and here I thought I was a printer.’”

That story made me think of what an industry vendor told me some 20 years ago: If you look in a phone book, he said, ‘Lithographers’ are listed right under the ‘Liquor’ heading. “And there’s good reason for that!” So if this crazy business is causing your offset presses to consume too much alcohol, there’s always the isopropyl-free package to consider. Let the festivities, and the learning, begin. Just don’t over-imbibe—everything in moderation, ideas and knowledge included. Have a great show, everybody!

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