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Almost every history professor will tell you that changes come in cycles, whether it’s war, industrial development, or the economic climate. Since the first NPE was held in 1946, there have been massive changes in the technology on display and the interests of the attendees, but through good times and harder times, the show has continued to be a venue for education and innovation.

Kate Dixon

June 1, 2009

3 Min Read
NPEs past and present


Almost every history professor will tell you that changes come in cycles, whether it’s war, industrial development, or the economic climate. Since the first NPE was held in 1946, there have been massive changes in the technology on display and the interests of the attendees, but through good times and harder times, the show has continued to be a venue for education and innovation.

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The first NPE was the only one open to the public, bringing in 87,000 visitors. (Photo: Van Dorn Demag)

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Since it made Chicago its permanent home in 1971, NPE attendees look forward not only to the industry event, but also to all the city has to offer.

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For the first time, NPE attendees will visit exhibitors and participate in seminars in the recently completed West Hall at McCormick Place.

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SPI and NPE conference chairs kick off the 1985 event. (Photo: Jerome H. Heckman)

The first NPE was held in 1946 at Grand Central Palace in New York City and had 164 exhibits in 25,000 ft2, with many booths measuring just 10 by 10 ft. IMM’s sister publication, Modern Plastics Worldwide, exhibited at the first show and has been present ever since. The show grew gradually over the next decade, and rapidly during the ’60s, until space and electrical power needs brought the show to Chicago’s McCormick Place in 1971, where it has been held ever since.

In October 1972, Modern Plastics and the SPI established the Plastics Hall of Fame, with the first induction ceremony held the following fall at NPE1973.

In 1988, NPE was held just eight months after the biggest Wall Street crash since 1929, but it didn’t stop the show from growing, with 36% more exhibitors and 31% more visitors than NPE1985. And the first NPE that IMM covered was in 1994, only eight months after it launched.

The year 2000 was a landmark year for NPE, setting records in number of exhibitors, exhibit space, and visitor registration, with an estimated 90,000 attendees. The growing importance of the Internet was clear: An SPI survey showed that by 2000, 90% of industry companies had e-mail and 81% had websites, compared to just 50% and 42%, respectively, at NPE1997.

Several factors changed the industry by the time NPE2003 came around, including the dot-com implosion, 9/11, and a war in Iraq, but new technology and information on how to compete in the global marketplace drew much interest. NPE2006 marked the 60th anniversary of the show, with attendees showing a growing interest in energy-efficient and eco-friendly products. And despite the economy, SPI predicts NPE2009 to be a dynamic, successful event, with a massive collection of colocated conferences and expositions.

If you’re heading to the show, we hope to see you on the floor or at our Break Room (S40031), which will provide visitors with a well-deserved place to relax between visits to the various pavilions, 800 Antec presentations, and SPI’s Business of Plastics Conference. The plasticstoday.com editorial team will be covering highlights throughout the show, writing yet another chapter in the history of the country’s largest industry event. [email protected]

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