A Brief Timeline of the North American International Livestock Exposition
in honor of the Expo’s 50th Anniversary
CELEBRATING 50 YEARS
Vision, strong leadership, dedicated staff and volunteers, community support, a central location, and a world-class facility originally designed, and later expanded, with livestock shows in mind—these are some of the key factors contributing to the creation and continued growth of the world’s largest all-breed, purebred livestock show. To honor the 50th Anniversary of the North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE), we look back on some of the milestones of the North American’s first five decades. Some of these highlights, illustrated by archival photos and documents, are featured in a display in the Harold Workman North Wing Lobby and in a brief history video that may be viewed on television and event screens around the Expo Center during the 2023 NAILE.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN…
1971-1973—The International Live Stock Exposition had been held at Union Stock Yards in Chicago since 1900, but the iconic Stock Yards closed in 1971, and commercial development of that land was on the near horizon. Concerned that the International would soon close as well, a group of influential Kentucky livestock breeders approached Kentucky Governor Wendell Ford about creating a new major livestock show. Within a year, the show’s planning committee determined that enough support existed for a Beef Cattle Show. Work was initiated to cultivate interests in Dairy, Swine, and Sheep Divisions for the near future. Governor Ford held a press conference in June 1973 announcing that the new livestock show would be planned by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
1974—The first North American Livestock Exposition (NALE) was held November 17–23, 1974, at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center in Louisville. The seven-day exposition was initially produced, cooperatively, by two state agencies—the Kentucky State Fair Board and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture—and Harold Workman, beef and swine show supervisor for the latter, was appointed Secretary-Manager.
Many of the leaders from those early days—including Harold Workman, General Manager; Jack Ragsdale, Chair of the Advisory and Executive Committees; Garland Bastin, General Superintendent; Charles Barnhart, Dean of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture; and Claude Brock, Director of Media Operations—would serve the North American for decades. These leaders were supported by a small army of dedicated volunteers, and the entire team was focused on the exhibitors’ interests and needs—a hallmark that has defined the character of the North American throughout its history.
Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Wendell Butler, Louisville Mayor Harvey Sloane, and NALE Executive Committee members Lonnie Tomes (Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center) and Fred Troutman (Kentucky Department of Agriculture) were among the officials who opened the show ring gates at the first North American Livestock Exposition in 1974. Youth exhibitor Bill G. Maxwell of McMinnville, TN, and his Angus heifer Lady Jean, were the first to walk out onto the green shavings in the Coliseum (Freedom Hall) and begin the show.
Those green shavings are an important North American tradition. In 1973, as the Department of Agriculture was working to develop the first show, NALE General Manager Harold Workman visited the American Royal in Kansas City and noticed a green-tinted wood chip in the show rings. Back in Kentucky, he contacted Roy Gibson at Feeders Supply Company to ask if he would be willing to develop a green-tinted wood shaving for the first North American. The rest is history. Green shavings have been a trademark of the NAILE throughout its history, and this distinctive look has been adopted by other livestock shows as well.
In this inaugural year, the NALE was a Beef Show for five breeds, drawing 1,742 entries from 40 states and three Canadian provinces. The five breeds represented at the first show were: Angus, Charolais, Hereford, Polled Hereford, and Shorthorn, and the Coliseum (Freedom Hall) was an impressive show ring. Although it began as a beef show, the original logo developed for the North American in 1974 communicated confidence that the show would quickly grow. The first logo featured three species—cattle, sheep, and swine—and a global sphere that foreshadowed the international impact that the expo would soon have.
The expo’s Publicity Committee, led by Claude Brock, coordinated advertising campaigns, promotions, and media coverage. Farm broadcasting veterans Barney Arnold and Jack Crowner served on the committee, and Crowner became the first announcer and auctioneer at the North American as well. For the first few decades, the expo was documented by NAILE Official Photographer Bill Glover, whose artistry captured a classic, traditional look for the show. Mr. Glover developed his film—always black and white—each night in a makeshift darkroom on the exposition grounds. To help attract an audience for the new expo, a country music concert by George Jones and Tammy Wynette was booked, starting a tradition of live music performances that would last for many years.
Youth events at the first North American included a Junior Livestock Show and the National 4-H Livestock Judging Contest, which moved from the International Live Stock Exposition in Chicago to its new home in Louisville.
A commercial sales brochure invited potential exhibitors to “capture THE marketing opportunity of 1974” at the first annual exposition. Initially located in the East Wing, exhibitors offered livestock equipment and services, as well as lifestyle products, but the popular area would grow in both size and variety over the years, becoming the ultimate “Country Store.” Jean Callaghan would work with the commercial exhibitors for more than three decades.
1975—The last International Live Stock Exposition was held in Chicago, where it had been an industry-shaping event since 1900. The North American Livestock Exposition, now in its second year, was positioned to inherit this legacy; but organizers were also shaping the expo to reflect the needs of the modern livestock industry. Above all, they were crafting an exhibitor-focused show. The Sheep Division was added to the North American this year, with 1,443 entries representing thirteen breeds: Border Cheviot, Columbia, Corriedale, Dorset, Hampshire, Montadale, Oxford, Rambouillet, Romney, Shropshire, Southdown, and Suffolk. Bob Hall was the first Chair of the Sheep Advisory Committee, a post he would hold through 2012.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture established an International Visitors Center at the 1975 event to provide services for visitors and exhibitors from abroad. A Championship Rodeo also joined the schedule, with World Champion Cowboy (and Western movie actor) Casey Tibbs serving as host and judge. Hayden Timmons signed on as the ring announcer in Freedom Hall during the expo, and he would be the “Voice of the North American International” for the next 36 years.
1976—The National Collegiate Livestock Judging Contest—established in 1900 at the International Live Stock Exposition in Chicago—moved to the NALE in Louisville. More than forty student teams, representing agricultural colleges across North America, judged breeding cattle, hogs, market steers, and sheep, competing to earn the coveted honors of winning team and high individual. Superintendent Dr. Harlan Ritchie helped build the contest in Louisville for the first decade.
In 1976, the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center was selected as the new home for The Saddle & Sirloin Club Portrait Gallery, a historic collection of painted portraits depicting individuals who have been honored for making significant contributions to the advancement of animal husbandry. The Portrait Gallery was originally established in the Tudor-style Pure Bred Live Stock Records Building at Chicago’s Union Stock Yards in 1903, and more than 300 portraits were transferred from Chicago to Louisville in 1977. In its new home, it has continued to grow. Since 1978, a new inductee has been honored each year during the NAILE. The Saddle & Sirloin Club Portrait Gallery is believed to be the largest collection of painted portraits commemorating a single industry. With the 2023 induction, a total of 378 individuals have been honored; 367 are housed at the Kentucky Exposition Center.
1977—The NALE expanded to two full weeks, with the addition of three more species. The Dairy Cattle Division was established, with five breeds represented—Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Holstein, and Jersey. Market Swine and Quarter Horse Shows were added as well.
Dennis Liptrap was the Superintendent of that inaugural Swine Show, and he was still serving in that post at the 50th Anniversary NAILE. A Children’s Barnyard, with a variety of juvenile livestock animals and hatching chickens, expanded the educational offerings at the expo, and FFA youth were on hand to answer visitors’ questions.
1978—The NALE was renamed the North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE), directly acknowledging the ties to the legacy of Chicago’s International Live Stock Exposition and reflecting an increasing scope of participation beyond North America. The Exposition Center was growing, too, with the new Broadbent Arena serving as an additional show ring. School tours were led by Klondike Elementary PTA “cowgirl” volunteer guides, and students viewed the “Meet What You Eat” animated film on their tours. Visitors in 1978 were entertained by horseshoe and checkers tournaments, a tobacco spitting contest, stage shows, and a garage sale.
Dr. Hilton M. Briggs, president of South Dakota State University and author of the essential textbook, Modern Breeds of Livestock, was the first Saddle & Sirloin Club honoree to be added since the Portrait Gallery moved to Louisville.
1979— The NAILE Steer Show and Market Lamb Show became junior events, with the Grand Champions and Reserve Grand Champions auctioned to the highest bidders at the Sale of Champions. After a hiatus of three years, a three-night rodeo competition returned to Freedom Hall during the NAILE. This first “North American Championship Rodeo” was launched in partnership with the new Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Circuit System, as the finals for the Great Lakes Circuit. The North American has become the longest-serving host site for a PRCA Circuit Finals.
1980—Doug Shepherd—a volunteer at the North American from the very beginning—was named Beef Cattle Superintendent, a post he would hold for thirty-five years.
1982—Before he was known as the “King of Country Music,” George Strait appeared at the NAILE Sale of Champions, months after recording his first number one single, “Fool Hearted Memory.”
1983—The Draft Horse Show was added to the North American International Livestock Exposition.
1984—The Kentucky General Assembly shifted full management of the NAILE to the Kentucky State Fair Board and show manager Harold Workman transferred from the Department of Agriculture to the Fair Board. The North American offices moved out of trailers and into a modified Exposition Center ballroom. Jack Ragsdale was elected Chair of the NAILE Executive Committee.
1987—The first annual Farm City Luncheon was held during the NAILE. The event, produced by Louisville’s Agribusiness Industry Network, honors the Agribusiness of the Year and concludes with the Wing Tip Rodeo, where teams of area business leaders compete in a roping contest.
1988—The Dairy Goat Show premiered at the NAILE.
1992—The NAILE Llama and Alpaca Show debuted, expanding into the Exposition Center’s new state-of-the-art South Wing (a 130,000-square-foot exposition space now designated as South Wing A). The South Wing became the new “barn” and show ring for sheep as well. The NAILE Stockdog Trials became a popular outdoor event.
The annual Newell G. Hicks Vision Award, named to honor the long-time Official Veterinarian of the NAILE, was initiated to recognize individuals who exhibit high quality leadership and visionary skills on behalf of the North American International Livestock Exposition. Garland Bastin, who had served as General Superintendent of the NAILE since its founding, was the first recipient.
1993—Cecil Goodlett, involved in the North American from the very beginning, was named Sheep Superintendent, a post he would hold for more than two decades.
1995—Space in the South Wing doubled this year, and the Swine Division relocated to the newly expanded space. As the North American’s geographic reach expanded over the years, the International Visitors Center grew to include farm tours, language interpreters, and export assistance.
1996—Just three years after World Wide Web protocol and code were made available for public use, the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center launched its first website, which included promotions of the NAILE.
1998—The North American celebrated its Silver Anniversary, hosting a historic number of national shows and livestock entries. The schedule included 28 purebred association shows and 44 open shows, with exhibitors vying for more than $500,000 in premiums and awards. The 20th Annual North American Championship Rodeo was also commemorated this year. The NAILE field trip program, led by volunteer docents from the Louisville Ag Club and the FFA, was expanded in this 25th anniversary year to include a curriculum publication for teachers and a series of learning stations located throughout the expo grounds.
2000—The Boer Goat Show was added to the NAILE schedule. This meat breed, developed by Dutch farmers in South Africa, was newly introduced in the United States in 1993.
2001—Jimmie Claycomb was named General Superintendent of the show upon the death of Garland Bastin, who had served since the beginning. The North American became one of the first major livestock shows to initiate an online entry system, and quite memorably, online entries launched just as the tragedies of 9/11 were unfolding. Long-time NAILE Assistant Manager David Snider, who developed the online process, would share the successes and lessons of this pilot project with the rest of the industry.
2002—Kim Ragland initiated the Beef Cattle Intern Program, to give young people entering the industry hands-on professional experience and to expand the staff of the expo. The U.S. Disc Dog National Championship debuted this year as well. Offerings of the NAILE Education Program continued to expand, allowing young visitors to milk a fiberglass cow, play “Farmer for a Day,” and experience border collie herding and sheep to shawl demonstrations.
2003— The Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center opened South Wing C and the South Wing Conference Center, providing expanded facilities for NAILE shows and events.
The 100th Anniversary of the Saddle & Sirloin Club Portrait Gallery was commemorated, and Harold Workman—who had served as General Manager of the North American International Livestock Exposition since its founding—was named the 2003 inductee.
2005—NAILE shows held in Freedom Hall were live streamed for the first time on the Exposition’s website. More than 46,000 viewers logged on to watch the Dairy and Beef Cattle Shows.
2006—A Junior Meat Goat Show was added to the North American, and the Sheep Show gained a larger audience with the addition of live streaming cameras.
2007—This year, the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center was renamed the Kentucky Exposition Center, and its facilities expanded once again, with the opening of the state-of-the-art North Wing, replacing the Exposition Center’s East Wing, built in 1956. The NAILE inaugural Mule and Donkey Show was launched, bringing the NAILE to a total of ten divisions.
2012—During the NAILE, the North Wing Lobby was renamed the Harold Workman North Wing Lobby, to honor the retiring leader who had served as General Manager of the North American since 1974.
2013—Warren Beeler was named General Superintendent of the North American, becoming only the third person in the show’s history to hold the title.
2019—A charitable organization, the Saddle & Sirloin Portrait Foundation, was established to maintain, present, and promote the Portrait Gallery.
2020—For the first time in the North American’s history, the show was closed to spectators. Due to the international COVID-19 pandemic, exhibitors were issued special wristbands to help with contact tracing and to limit capacity in the barns, and masks were required indoors. Some events were cancelled, and others were held virtually.
2021—Spectators returned to the 2021 NAILE, after a one-year, exhibitors-only event at the height of the COVID pandemic.
2023—Corinne Fetter, who had previously led the Expositions Division at the Kentucky Exposition Center for fifteen years, returned to leadership as Executive Director of Expositions, in time for the 50th Anniversary of the North American International Livestock Exposition. The golden anniversary was commemorated with a brief history video and a display in the Harold Workman North Wing Lobby, reproducing many of the photographs and advertisements from the early years of the expo. A project to conduct video interviews with the leaders who helped build the show was also begun, and excerpts from these interviews were incorporated into a variety of media pieces.
As happens with any Golden Anniversary, our thoughts go to the leaders who helped build and grow the North American over the years and are no longer with us. This list, though certainly not complete, honors some of the early and long-serving contributors to the expo, to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude.
Barney Arnold (1916–2001), Publicity Committee*
Dr. Charles Barnhart (1923–2007), Dean, University of KY College of Agriculture, Consultant Committee*
Garland Bastin (1920–2000), General Superintendent*
Donnie Beavers (1957–2011), Beef Cattle Show
Carlisle Besuden (1904–1985), Publicity Committee*
Wendell Butler (1912–2000), Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture*
Jean Callaghan (1925–2021), commercial exhibits*
Ron Craig (1939–2021), Sheep Superintendent*
Jack Crowner (1932–2014), Publicity Committee, announcer, auctioneer*
Chuck Foley (1943–2011), decorator, commercial exhibits*
Gov. Wendell Ford (1924–2015), Kentucky Governor 1971–1974
Roy Gibson (1936–2004), Feeders Supply Company, “father of the green shavings”
John Hanly (1943–2013), Beef Cattle Show
Dr. George Heersche (1948–2023), Dairy Cattle Judging Co-Superintendent
Dr. Newell Hicks (1929–1991), Official Veterinarian*
Barney Hornback (1932–2022), Executive Committee*
Bill Glover (1918–2006), Official Photographer*
Gene Megli (1938–2014), Sheep Superintendent*
Dr. John Moran (1953–2022), Official Veterinarian
Larry Mutter (1941–2017), Holstein Superintendent*
Harold Quick (1929–2017), decorator, floor marker extraordinaire
Rich Raderer Sr. (1923–2012), Executive Committee*
Jack Ragsdale (1926–2021), Chair of the Advisory & Executive Committees*
Howard Rea (1947–2020), Quarter Horse Show Co-Superintendent
Dr. Harlan Ritchie (1935–2016), National Collegiate Livestock Judging Contest Superintendent*
David Sparrow (1944–2014), Dairy Cattle Superintendent
Hayden Timmons (1927–2020), Ring Announcer*
Lonnie Tomes (1918–2009), Executive Committee*
Coy Trapp (1948–2022), Beef Cattle Show
Bill Turnquist (1934–2013), Dairy Goat Superintendent*
Mack Whiteker (1929–2006), Swine Advisory Committee*
Mike Wilkerson (1950–2022), Dairy Cattle Superintendent*
* indicates involved in the North American from the earliest years