E•Connections

For exhibit and event professionals  

A Quirky Tale of Trade Fairs

September 11, 2017 By Caroline Meyers, Editor eConnections

Charles Pappas book

Charles Pappas’ New Book Chronicles 175 Years of Trade Shows, Fairs, and Expositions

The exhibit industry — planners, fabricators, marketers — are necessarily focused on the vast amount of detail it takes to put together a successful trade show. But take time out for Exhibitor magazine writer Charles Pappas’ new book Flying Cars, Zombie Dogs & Robot Overlords: How World’s Fairs and Trade Expos Changed the World.  You won’t be disappointed.

Charles Pappas talks about how his book came to be in this Q&A with eConnections.

Not quite a coffee table book in size, but an excellent accompaniment to a fresh cup, Flying Cars, Zombie Dogs & Robot Overlords is a mind-boggling compendium of trade fair craziness going back some 175 years.

Each short chapter is devoted to the history and attractions of one of 65 trade shows, fairs or expositions—examples Pappas has culled from his assignments at Exhibitor magazine and his researches into trade show history from the mid-1800s to the present day. Pappas’ over-the-top prose pairs well with the subject matter—the outsized attractions fairs and expos have delivered through the years.

Pappas gives us behind the scenes tours of some strange, curious and flat out weird expos.

The Tame
The Boston Food Fair featuring a 107-pound squash.

The Bizarre
A mechanical chicken at the World’s Poultry Congress which laid artificial eggs.

The Disturbing
The Mock Prison Riot conference where volunteers play prisoners and law enforcement gets to practice containment.

But underlying these strange doings Pappas makes the point that trade fairs are where dozens of now-familiar products, ideas, and cultural norms have had their beginning.

The book also bursts with some of the nuttiest historical photos to accompany the text that you would ever want to see. Kudos to Pappas for the photo research.

The examples are loosely arranged in chronological order, but the reader can thumb through the book, start with any chapter and go from there.

Pappas turns serious in the last chapters of “Flying Cars, Zombie Dogs & Robot Overlords” with a sobering description of the exhibits at Expo 2015 Milan “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.”

The Expo showed a 21st century turn-about in trade fair optimism as displays from countries around the world warned of planetary catastrophe in the making thanks to humankind. Shrinking oceans, vanishing food supplies, and melting glaciers were all graphically demonstrated to visitors—a future far different from the carefree optimism of the trade fairs of old.

Yet alongside this doom and gloom, the U.S. pavilion displayed the largest vertical farm of the time which used less water and no pesticides. The vertical greenery was sound damping, air cleaning and provided shade for the buildings behind the walls.

Trade fairs and expositions. World’s fairs and conferences. Charles Pappas describes them all with such obvious zest, you can’t help be entertained and informed at the same time.


Pre orders are available for “Flying Cars, Zombie Dogs & Robot Overlords: How World’s Fairs and Trade Expos Changed the World” from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The book officially launches in November 2017.

A Note From Charles

Charles Pappas is the Captain Ahab/Mr. Peabody of the exhibition industry. He has spent years sleuthing out not just the economic impact but also the cultural imprint of trade fairs. Charles has covered the expo industry for Exhibitor magazine since 2002. His personal “white whale” is an early 20th-century photo of Bayer AG exhibiting heroin, its trademarked morphine surrogate and cough suppressant, at a trade show.

Previously, he was the investigative reporter for Yahoo Internet Life, a columnist for Alexa.com, and a technology writer for Small Office Computing, Home Office Computing, and other publications. In the last few years, his articles have won numerous national/regional ASBPE, MAGGIE, and TABBI awards. His previous book, It’s a Bitter Little World, is an ode to film noir language.








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