Auto Show made possible in 1922 by new Corn Palace
Three-day car show drew praise from visitors and a World War I flying ace
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a series commemorating the 100th anniversary of the current Corn Palace building, which opened in 1921.
"Success! Spell it with capital letters and that's Mitchell's first automobile show."
That's how The Mitchell Evening Republican (the forerunner to this publication) reviewed the opening night of the inaugural Mitchell Automobile Show from April 20, 1922.
After the new Corn Palace debuted in time for the 1921 Corn Palace Festival, the next largest major event was the organization of an auto show by the Mitchell Auto Dealers Association.
"The corn palace will lend itself better to the holding of such a show (than) that any building in the northwest," the newspaper said in a preview on March 29, 1922.
And the prediction about the show and the turnout was correct. As many as 4,000 individuals attended on the opening night and the newspaper reported one visitor calling it "the best show ever seen in this section of the country."
The building was open on Friday and Saturday night from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m., with special band and orchestra music and dancing in the afternoon and evening.
National carmakers agreed to send exhibits to the show, and there were displays for tires and other automobile accessories for the three-day event. Among the models on display included Maxwells, Oldsmobiles, Hupmobiles, Elgins and Overlands.
(Aside from Oldsmobile, many of those brands didn't last long. The Maxwell led to the creation of the first Chrysler a few years later. Elgin and Overland would be out of business within two years, and the Hupmobile was defunct by 1940.)
"They are all there and at a price to suit anyone's pocket book," the newspaper wrote. The prices started at $550 and up. Accounting for inflation, that same $550 car would cost $7,702 today.
The show had a big appearance in Eddie Rickenbacker, who was a Medal of Honor-winning fighter ace in World War I just a handful of years prior. He spoke to the crowd on April 20 about his adventures flying for his country and his optimism about the United States' future prosperity, especially out of the recession in 1920 and 1921 after the war.
Rickenbacker also had his own reasons for being at an auto show, as he was trying to get his own commercial car off the ground. A passionate auto racer before the war, he created the Rickenbacker Motor Company, with a model starting at about $1,500 that boasted a smooth ride and limited vibration. Like other brands, his car would only last a few years, going defunct by 1927.
He said he wasn't sure he would accept the invitation from Mitchell, but got telegrams from the mayor, chamber of commerce and the automobile association convincing him it must be quite a place. And Rickenbacker shared his praise for the new building as well.
"I do not believe any city of less than 50,000 in the United States has an auditorium as large as this," he said. "It would have been impossible to hold such a show as this without this auditorium and you are to be congratulated upon having it."
This story was published with the research assistance of the Carnegie Resource Center in Mitchell, located at 119 W. Third Ave.