The roots of today’s American Royal can be traced to 1899 when the fledgling event was referred to as the National Hereford Show. Billed as the first nationwide show for the exposition and sale of purebred cattle, it took place during the month of October in a tent in the West Bottoms.
The American Royal derived its name from an editorial written to a beef industry publication, titled “The Drovers Telegraph,” citing a similar show in Great Britain called “The Royal Show.” The three-day sale drew close to 55,000 people and featured roughly 300 Herefords that were sold at auction for a little over $400 a head.
For several years after that, the annual event took place at a number of venues across Kansas City, including Electric Park and the Convention Hall, and ultimately returned to the Kansas City Stockyards area in a new building constructed at 23rd and Wyoming. Funding for the building came from the Shorthorn and Hereford Breeders Association and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, who contributed $100,000 to the new structure. Construction commenced in November of 1921 and the building, built in two phases, was ready for the livestock show in the fall of 1922.
According to the description on the back of this postcard published by Max Bernstein of Kansas City, Mo., the American Royal building that stood in the West Bottoms from its first show in the fall of 1922 to its demolition in 1993, was of “reinforced concrete, brick and tile, practically fireproof, 782 feet long, two stories in height and over six acres of floor area. There were 6,100 permanent seats, arranged amphitheater-style around the arena. Seats 10,000 to 12,000 if arena is used.”
The old American Royal building was also home to professional hockey franchises including the Kansas City Blues and the Kansas City Scouts, as well as the Kansas City Kings basketball team prior to the construction of Kemper Arena.
The old Royal building was retired after a 70-year run and was demolished to make way for a new American Royal facility completed on the same site in time for the 1993 Royal event schedule.
Sadly change was not done at the old American Royal, as the annual American Royal BBQ contest that drew over 500 teams annually from all over the world pulled up stakes and moved to the infield of the Kansas Speedway in 2016. The American Royal organization has also secured a 115-acre site near the speedway for the construction of a new $250 million facility near The Legends shopping district, leaving the historic stockyards district after an over 120-year history.