Abstract futuristic high speed sports car.

Neighborhood News: 121 Years of the Chicago Auto Show

Abstract futuristic high speed sports car.

From the earliest Ford Model T’s to electric Teslas, since 1901, the Chicago Auto Showhas showcased the latest in automotive technology and showmanship. According to their website, it’s the largest auto show in North America and has been held more times than any other auto exposition on the continent. 

In 2023, the show is running at McCormick Place, 2301 S. King Drive, now through Monday, February 20.

Humble Beginnings

Cars were invented in 1886, when German inventor Carl Benz patented his Benz Patent-Motorwagen, and cars becamebecame widely available during the 20th century. In the United States, according to Wikipedia sources, the Industrial Revolution provided the mass production facilities to produce one of the first affordable cars, the 1908 Model T, an American car manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. In 1913, the United States produced some 485,000 of the world total of 606,124 motor vehicles, according to History.com.

Time for a show! 

According to Wikipedia sources, Samuel Miles, who promoted bicycle shows, produced the first “official” Chicago Automobile Show in 1901. The event was staged in March of that year at the Chicago Coliseum, then located at 1513 S. Wabash Avenue. At that show, 10  vehicles were exhibited… five were electric vehicles, three were steam-powered, and two were gasoline. Their featured vehicle was the Crossland Steam Car. The show also featured an indoor track for attendees to test drive the vehicles. 

The second annual show in 1902 multiplied tenfold: 100 cars were display; sadly, the indoor track was discontinued to accommodate space requirements for the exhibitors.

After more than three decades, Miles retired, and in 1935, The Chicago Automobile Trade Association (CATA), the United States’ oldest and largest metropolitan automobile dealership organization, became the event’s producer and organizer. They also moved to a much larger venue, the International Amphitheatre.

World War II curtailed production of motor vehicles for consumers in the United States, with the domestic automotive industry retooling to manufacture defense and military equipment. As a result, the Chicago Auto Show was not held between 1941 and 1949, but returned in the 1950’s to showcase the advent of ‘muscle’ cars, sports cars like the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro, to the family sedan and the family station wagon. 

In 1961, the show moved to its current location at McCormick Place, moving back to the International Amphitheatre when fire destroyed the original McCormick Place in 1967. 

Today, the show has more than 1 million feet of show space and is host to about 1,000 different vehicles on display, and you’ll also see accessories and auto-related exhibits.

2023 Show Featuring… Van Gogh? 

The 2023 Chicago Auto Show runs through February 19, from 10am–10pm, and on President’s Day, February 20, from 10am–8pm. Autoweek noted that Toyota is gearing up for the first-ever NASCAR Chicago Street Race Weekend this July by collaborating with the Art Institute of Chicago to design a colorfully wrapped “artistic” Camry pace car, covered in modified versions of Van Gogh’s artwork. Immersive, yes? 

Among the non-vehicular highlights are appearances by the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Wolves in the North Hall, and a ‘Friday Night Flights’ Craft Beer Event at the Goose Island Rail Car in the South Hall. 

And about that indoor track? In 2023, there are seven total indoor test tracks and four outdoor test drives.

Adult tickets are $15, and tickets for seniors and children between the ages of 4-and-12 will cost $10. Children under the age of 4 are free. For tickets, click here. 

Alison Moran-Powers and Dean’s Team Chicago