Prior to 1899, livestock and horse shows in the Kansas City area were held irregularly, usually only when convenient or need arose.
However, in 1899, the first of a series of livestock shows was held. The event was to continue annually until now and develop into one of the most outstanding events of its kind in the world, the American Royal Livestock and Horse Show.
Roots of the American Royal can be traced to the period shortly after the Civil War, when Texans, returning from the battlefields to their homesteads and ranches, found their herds had multiplied unchecked. On rounding up the cattle and driving the herds to Southern markets, they found the markets overloaded and prices way down. It was then that the Texans returned to Northern markets and drovers pushed the herds to railheads extending out from St. Louis and Chicago. Others headed their herds to richer pastures in Nebraska, Wyoming and even Canada.
The railroads, sensing a demand for their services, extended the railheads farther West, reaching such points as Kansas City, St. Joseph, Topeka, Dodge City and Wichita.
Kansas City became a focal point for consignment of cattle. It wasn’t long before packers constructed plants in the area to accommodate the supply. Therefore, it was only natural for cattlemen to occasionally display their stock somewhere near the Kansas City Stock Yards. Those who were especially interested in promoting a particular breed were most active in those endeavors.
From its beginning as a Hereford Cattle Show, held in a tent at the Kansas City stockyards in 1899, the American Royal has grown to become the largest combined livestock, horse show and rodeo in the nation. In 1915 and 1916 the Royal was held in Convention Hall. Special building to house livestock were erected where the present Municipal Auditorium now stands. However, the facilities proved to be too limited. In 1917 the show moved to Electric Park - then located near what is now Brush Creek Boulevard and the Paseo. Because of World War I, an abbreviated exposition was held at the stock yards in 1918. A year later, the show returned to Convention Hall. In 1920 and 1921 the event again was at the stockyards, where a fairly adequate pavilion had been improvised for the show in one of the sheep barns.
It wasn’t until 1921 that talk of providing a permanent home for the American Royal crystallized. The Chamber of Commerce took up the matter. A spacious new pavilion was built and the 1922 show was held there. The structure cost about $650,000, with the lion’s share born by the Kansas City Stock Yards Company. Businessmen of the city contributed $100,000 and the Hereford and Shorthorn associations added $10,000 each.
Everything continued without incident at the Royal for three years. Then on February 13, 1925, disaster struck the pavilion. The building was damaged severely by fire during an automobile show. Three days afterward, rebuilding began. This resulted in an even more spacious and better appointed facility for the 1925 fall show.
Thereafter the show prospered and grew. Even through the depression of the 1930’s and the war years of the ‘40’s, the American Royal continued to expand. However, the World War II shows were limited in scope, and were more or less confined to pen areas in the stock yards. American Royal buildings during the war were converted to a glider building plant. At the end of the war, the show bounced back to become greater than before. Through the post-war years, the show continued to gain stature - until Black Friday - July 13, 1951 - when the Kaw River went out of its banks and destroyed much of the Royal facilities. Officials pushed clean-up operations and the show was held in the fall of that year.
The American Royal is known for its popular entertainment at its Horse Show. Many noted personalities, even presidents of the United State and officials of foreign nations, have attended these functions.
Many years have passed since the American Royal first was thought of and there were times when it appeared the event could not continue. But the faith and support of civic-minded individuals and area businessmen have made it possible for the Livestock and Horse Show of the American Royal to continue and to expand into one of the nation’s most important expositions.
In 1975 was the addition of the Kemper Arena and the Rodeo. The American Royal remains one of America’s top Livestock Shows today. (Information as of 2011)