The Black Hills Industrial Show - Deadwood

Last Updated by Brian Gevik, Text by Hannah Marshall Bawden - Archivist - Deadwood History Inc. on

On March 8, 1949, the Retail and Trade Commission of Deadwood announced that the Black Hills Building and Industrial Show had been cancelled. The show had been held annually in late March or early April for the past 14 years. A devastating fire in 1948 left the Schwarzwald Furniture Company of Deadwood without a building. As a temporary solution to this problem the company leased the Deadwood Auditorium, where the Industrial Show was normally held. Interest in the Show had been waning over the past two years but the cancellation spurred citizens and business owners to vocally support bringing the show back in 1950, claiming that without it the communities had no official start to spring. With such a dramatic response to the cancelation it is surprising to learn that the first Black Hills Industrial Show of 1935 was not meant to be an annual event and more surprising, it was not locally focused but rather a cooperation between seven Black Hills communities and the Federal Housing Administration.

1948 Deadwood Fire
The 1948 fire that destroyed Schwarzwald Furniture Company burns on lower Main Street.  Date:  May 24, 1948.  Photo courtesy Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection.

By 1934 the construction slump of the Great Depression had reached South Dakota; the Federal Housing Administration introduced the Better Housing Program meant to help homeowners buy, keep, or improve their homes. In cities across the country federal housing committeemen were selected and offered financial assistance in implementing the program. Industrial shows were planned for 1935 in a number of South Dakota towns including Watertown, Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, and Huron to highlight the Better Housing Program. In the Black Hills trade area the committeemen of Rapid City, Custer, Hot Springs, Deadwood, Sturgis, Belle Fourche, and Spearfish came together to plan a much larger show that would run for the entire first week of April 1935 and offer elaborate prizes.

Industrial shows were not new in the Black Hills. Rapid City had held extremely successful Farm Industrial Shows in the early 1930s and the Black Hills Auto Show had been held in the Deadwood City Auditorium for 23 years, with thousands of visitors attending. The popularity of the Auto Show led Deadwood’s committeeman, F.S. Howe, to suggest that the city auditorium was the ideal location to hold the Black Hills Industrial Show, a suggestion accepted by everyone on the planning board.

deadwood auto show
The Black Hills Auto Show in the Deadwood Auditorium.  Date: 1914.  Photo courtesy Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection.

The cornerstone of the first Black Hills Industrial Show was a houseplan contest with a $50 grand prize. Financial assistance for the prize came from the Federal Housing Administration, as did the grand prize for the show: all construction supplies and furnishing for a five room house to be built in any Black Hills community the winner chose. The houseplan contest was open to all women within the Black Hills trade area and the rules were to adhere to the Federal Housing Administration’s new guidelines for building single family homes. The house was to have five rooms, one fireplace and chimney, plumbing fixtures and electrical outlets included, a basement was optional. The entries would be judged based on the convenience of the home for “everyday living.”  Along with $50, the plan would be given to an architect to create a working blueprint.

exhibitor badge
This Black Hills Industrial Show exhibitor ribbon belonged to Ralph Muncy, a Deadwood resident who worked for the Forest Service. Date: 1936.  Photo courtesy Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection

With the focus on stimulating the economy through the building of homes, the Industrial Show Planning Board reached out to local construction businesses as well as national companies to offer floor space in the auditorium. Very few turned down this opportunity and over 50 companies had rented floor space by February 1935. The committeemen then opened up floor space to local businesses. Some of the most memorable companies at the 1935 show included Black Hills Studios selling their photographs under the slogan “Better Photos for Better Homes” and  Homestake Mining Company’s mineral display which had originally been seen at the Black Hills Auto Show.

mineral exhibit
The original Mineral Display at the Black Hills Auto Show. Homestake Mining Company added to the exhibit each year. Date: 1914.  Photo courtesy Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection. 

Beyond the merchandise available, the Black Hills Industrial Show promised entertainment for attendees. Spearfish and Rapid City sent local talent show winners and the Deadwood High School band performed. For the final evening a dance was held with Carl West and his Orchestra from Iowa hired to play. The committeemen also reluctantly planned a style show, unsure of the popularity of such an event. Shops from Rapid City, Deadwood, and Belle Fourche sent their models around the auditorium floor wearing the latest fashions.

miniature house display
Display of a miniature house at the Black Hills Industrial Show. Fish & Hunter Co. pictured in the background. Date: 1935.  Photo courtesy Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection

The first Industrial Show was a major success.  Mrs. Lux of Rapid City won the houseplan contest, beating out over 300 other entrants. Fish & Hunter Company built a model house based off of Lux’s floorplan and displayed it all week. It was a great surprise when Mrs. Lux’s daughter also won the show’s grand prize! The dance on Saturday night drew over 1500 people and in a surprise to the men of the committee, the style show was incredibly popular. The towns of Deadwood and Lead reported that all hotel rooms were filled that week. F.S. Howe was eager to make the event an annual one and just a week after the 1935 show he began planning for the 1936 show.

  F.S. Howe
F.S. Howe was mayor of Deadwood in the 1920s and continued his service to the community of Deadwood as a federal housing committeeman during the Great Depression.  Date: Unknown. Photo Courtesy Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection.

Without the financial support of the Federal Housing Administration, the 1936 Black Hills Industrial Show prizes weren’t quite as elaborate. Howe raised $25 for the first prize in a houseplan contest and local businesses offered items for door prizes in exchange for a reduced floor rental fee. Funds saved from the 1935 show were used to build a raised catwalk for the style show. Despite the lack of extravagant prizes more visitors came to the event than in the previous year.

After 1936, interest and support by communities outside of Deadwood dwindled. Businesses from Spearfish and Belle Fourche continued to rent floor space and attendees came from across the state but the cities of Deadwood and Lead became the main planners.  Berthold Jacobs, owner of The Hub clothing store and the Kappa Chapter of the Beta Sigma Phi sorority sponsored the style shows and soon the only shops sending models down the runway were the New York Store and The Hub.

Deadwood Mainstreet
The Hub and New York Store on Main Street, Deadwood.  Date:  1950s.  Photo courtesy Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection.

In place of the houseplan contest a “Mutt Show” was held beginning in 1939. Over 100 children entered their non-pedigreed pups. Prizes were given out for categories such as “ugliest,” “tiniest,” “laziest,” and “loudest.” The contest was judged by Lead and Deadwood businessmen. Unfortunately, every year the dogs and children also managed to find the large mud puddles outside the auditorium and the resulting mess was deemed a bit too much by city officials; the  mutt show was no longer held after 1941.

forest service employees
Forest Service employees pose next to a miniature sawmill at the Black Hills Industrial Show.  Date:  1936.  Photo courtesy Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection.

If there was one group that managed to impress visitors each year, it was the Forest Service.  The Black Hills National Forest had a number of displays created in cooperation with South Dakota Game and Fish Commission and the City of Deadwood. One of the most popular exhibits was a working sawmill. Taxidermy displays of the local wildlife were also quite popular.

sawmill replica
Sawmill created by Black Hills Forest Service and the CCC Camp 4.  Date: 1938.  Photo courtesy Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection.

The goal of most of the Forest Service exhibits was to display how forest management helped the local economy but during World War II it was to highlight how forest management was part of national defense, stressing that any man needed to fight wildfires was one less man fighting in the war. A fire tower only two feet shorter than an actual tower was built right in the city auditorium!

taxidermy display
Taxidermy display put together by Black Hills Forest and South Dakota Game and Fish Commission.  Date: 1938-1941.  Photo courtesy Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection.

After the United States entered WWII in 1941, many industries switched from producing consumer goods to producing items for the war effort. With this in mind, the Industrial Show became a “national defense show.” South Dakota mining inspector, H.H. Stewart, worked with the Homestake Mining Company to create an exhibit showing the strategic minerals found in the Black Hills and their uses in the war effort. Classes in food production and home repairs specifically targeting women were planned. Door prizes were defense bonds and all proceeds from the event were given to the Red Cross.

In 1943 the Industrial Show became the Black Hills Victory Frolic. Rural school contests and a picnic celebrating the patriotic nature of South Dakota pioneers were held. Rides in a military jeep were offered to those donating to the war effort. The Homestake Band was asked to play, free of charge, at the final evening’s dance. The Black Hills Victory Frolic was held for the next two years with proceeds given to the war effort.

Deadwood Mainstreet
Bud Irish and Albro Ayres giving a check to Judge Hayes for the war effort.  Both the Black Hills Industrial Show and the Days of ‘76 Celebration were used as fundraisers for the war effort.  Date:  1944.  Photo courtesy Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection.

In 1946 the Black Hills Industrial Show returned (now the Black Hills Building and Industrial Show) to its original format but could not seem to recapture the magic of the pre-war shows.  Floor space was left empty in the two years before the fire. The 1948 fire and subsequent 1949 cancellation allowed the communities to reminisce about the elaborate prizes and fun exhibits of the past. In 1950 the Deadwood Auditorium was once again packed with local displays. But, the number of attendees to the show continued to dwindle during the 1950s. In 1957 the show was moved to the Deadwood Armory. The planning committee argued that the atmosphere of the armory would increase the success of the show even though there was space for only 36 businesses. The Black Hills Building and Industrial Show lasted for five more years before being officially cancelled after the 1961 show. 

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