A History of Excellence: IMTS

Take a moment in advance of this year’s show to look back over the history and evolution of this prestigious manufacturing showcase.


The first National Machine Tool Builders’ Exposition was held September 19-23, 1927, in the Cleveland Auditorium. The show occupied 63,000 square feet and attendance topped 12,000. Many of the machines shown were entirely new and many others embodied new features. The show required more power than any single industry exposition ever held anywhere before. A special transformer station erected for the show was rated to handle 5,000 HP, and cost $50,000. The organizers noted that “The show brought vividly to your customers the importance of an industry that could show 428 operating machines, ranging in size from milling machines weighing 100,000 pounds down to small portable machines like electric drills.”

Having held three successful machine tool shows in Cleveland (1927, 1929, and 1935) the association reserved space in the Cleveland Public Auditorium for the period of September 24 to October 21, 1939, for a fourth machine tool show. However, within weeks of the planned opening, history intervened. A vote of the membership (by telegram on September 5) canceled the show due the outbreak of war in Europe.

The following years saw U.S. industry shift all of its output to military production. No shows were scheduled during World War II. The first post-World War II show was held at the Chicago Dodge Plant, and after considering a number of possible locations, the 1955 Machine Tool Show took place at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago. Looking toward the future, the association contracted with the Union Stock Yard and Transit Company for use of their exhibition buildings in 1955 and again in 1960.

With the computer revolution in its early stages, numerical control was a hot topic as the Machine Tool Exposition-1960, scheduled for Sept. 6-16, approached. As described at the time, it involved adapting the principle of the electronic computer to design machines to respond to instructions coded in number form on punched or magnetic tape and transmitted electronically to servo-mechanisms that operate the machine tool.

The 1965 and 1970 exhibitions marked the end of the so-called twin shows: the Machine Tool Show and the Production Engineering Show. For some years there had been discussions of both the need for an international show and the need for a shorter show cycle due to the rapid advancements in technology. In addition, it was increasingly apparent that combining the two shows so that all of the machines and related equipment would be available in one place would be a benefit to both exhibitors and show visitors. Accordingly, NMTBA announced that the 1972 show would be their “first international exhibition of machine tools and related products from major nations around the world.”

The 1972 International Machine Tool Show was marked by a number of firsts: the first show with international exhibitors; the first with non-NMTBA members exhibiting; the first on a two-year cycle; and the first to utilize the facilities of McCormick Place. The show occupied both the International Amphitheatre and the newly constructed McCormick Place (the building now known as Lakeside Center). The 1974 show also marked a first. It was the first show managed by NMTBA through its subsidiary the National Machine Tool Builders’ Show, Inc. Management was no longer contracted to an outside company.

As in 1972, the 1974 and 1976 shows occupied both McCormick Place and the International Amphitheatre. In 1978 the McCormick Place facility was expanded to include Donnelley Hall—later to be known as McCormick Place West—and by 1980 the machine tool show had grown so large that it overflowed even the expanded McCormick Place facility and additional space had to be used in the Conrad Hilton Hotel. In 1982 and 1984 further growth was made possible by use of the O’Hare International Trade and Exposition Center, and technical conference sessions were added in 1982.

McCormick Place North opened for the 1986 exposition, making IMTS-86 the first U.S.-based show to exceed one million net square feet under roof, and IMTS-88 occupied all three halls and saw the first appearance of the robot hand, which remained the symbol of the show through the nineties.

By 1990 the official name of the show was changed to the International Manufacturing Technology Show, reflecting the changing industry and the broader scope of exhibits. Other changes included the participation by The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) as co-sponsors and managers of the expanded technology conference.

The nineties saw many changes in the ever-evolving show. In 1992 the Expocard system was introduced, making it easier and faster for attendees to request information and for exhibitors to gather data on potential customers. In 1994 the big product news was the unveiling of the startling hexapod machine design technology, and in 1996 linear motors were much in evidence and allowed machines to operate at incredible rates. The newly expanded McCormick Place complex itself was the star in 1998, with IMTS using the entire facility.

IMTS 2000 began the new millennium with attendance once again over 100,000 visitors, 1.4 million square feet of space, and 1,354 exhibitors. The IMTS Web site [www.imts.com] became a rising star with more than a 400 percent increase in site traffic. Exhibitors were able to purchase advertising packages to market their products and services, and attendees were able to pre-plan their show visit and save countless hours at McCormick Place.

IMTS 2002 saw the worst manufacturing economy in history, but over 1,350 exhibitors occupied almost 1.3 million square feet of exhibit space, and some 85,000 visitors attended. By the fall of 2004, however, the five-year decline in manufacturing capital goods sales had reversed and recovery was under way. That was reflected both in attendance of 86,232 and in the return of buyer interest and enthusiasm on the show floor. Some 1,277 exhibitors filled over 1.15 million square feet of exhibit space, and nearly all reported more leads and sales than they had expected. An innovative Emerging Technology Center, created in partnership with GE Fanuc Automation, presented manufacturing “technologies of the future” from leading universities and government research labs. The Student Summit drew 6,462 students and educators—50 percent more than at the previous show—from 37 states and 11 foreign countries.

Official IMTS site www.imts.com — Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau www.meetinchicago.com — City of Chicago www.cityofchicago.org — McCormick Place www.mccormickplace.com — Online restaurant reservations www.opentable.com — The Chicago Tribune www.chicagotribune.com — Chicago city guide chicago.citysearch.com