As I write this, the 2013 Expo is unfolding in Las Vegas. That set me to thinking about the national pool/spa shows of yesteryear. Did you know that the very first one was held back in 1956 in Chicago? It was organized by the then-new National Swimming Pool Institute (the forerunner of APSP).

That inaugural show went off without a hitch. But the second one, held in Houston in December 1957, was an entirely different matter. It almost didn’t happen at all.

It seems that around 2:00 on the morning of the show, attendees and exhibitors staying at the Shamrock Hotel, where the event was to be held, were suddenly awakened from their slumbers by sirens – lots of them -- bearing down on the hotel. Reports that half the exhibit hall was torched were exaggerated, but there was considerable damage.

NSPI President Robert Hoffman was awakened by a phone call from a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, asking about the fire. “What fire?” Hoffman replied. The reporter explained what had happened and asked Hoffman to estimate the value of the damaged exhibits. “I hadn’t the foggiest idea,” he later told Pool & Spa News’ Fay Coupe, “but I just pulled a figure out of the air and said, ‘$2,000,000.’ The next morning, a huge banner headline in the Chronicle said, ‘Fire Sears $2,000,000 of Exhibits at Shamrock.’ ”

The cause of the fire: a faulty pilot light on a heater.

“The most amazing thing about the fire was that the show opened on time, late on the afternoon of that same day,” Coupe reported in her “Pool History” series, which appeared in PSN.

“Everybody cooperated in cleaning up. Competitors shared booths with other guys,” Bob Hamilton, convention co-chairman and a Houston pool builder, told her. Added Henry Mohr, “That fire was what really welded the industry together.” Considering all the regional rivalry in those days, that’s saying a lot.

Of course, things change over the years. In 2001, NSPI sold the show to Hanley Wood (our parent company), which rebranded it as the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo. Whatever it’s called, the show must go on. Hope everyone is enjoying the Expo this week!