The show is at the Chicago Merchandise Mart, which was originally built by Marshall Field in 1930 and was the largest building in the world when it opened. As anyone who has been there knows, there are around 7.5 miles of corridor and only 30 elevators for 55,000 people. The building became government offices during WW II, and was bought by the Kennedy family right after the war. They developed it into the premier wholesale showroom space and largest producer of trade shows in the country.
Furniture shows have been held, particularly in New York since the middle of the 19th Century. Furniture manufacturing, particularly office furniture had become concentrated around the upper Midwest, Michigan, and Indiana so a Midwestern trade show made sense. By the late 50’s contract design had become separate from interior design, resulting in NOFA (National Organization of Furniture Manufacturers) being founded in 1963, and IBD (Institute of Business Designers) in 1969 and had developed into a separate profession.
The first NEOCON was organized by the Kennedy real estate management company MMPI to compete with the long running New York Design week and to promote their Midwestern showroom building. It was scheduled to coincide with the annual American Institute of Architects convention that was being in Chicago that year. The show turned out to be a huge success which guaranteed it’s being held every year since.