The More CES Stays the Same, the More It Changes

By  |  Monday, January 2, 2012 at 8:51 pm

While rummaging through the official CES photo bank for an image of Steve Ballmer giving a CES keynote, I came across this picture of the show floor, jam-packed with booths, attendees, and stuff. (Click on it for a larger version.)

Consumer Electronics Show 1980

At first blush, this could be any year’s show–you can see Sony, Panasonic, Pioneer, and other companies that will be at next week’s edition. I might believe you for a moment if you told me this was last year’s show, which I attended.

But it isn’t CES 2011, or 2001, or even 1991–it’s the 1980 edition. (I’m not sure whether it’s what was then called Winter CES, which was held in Las Vegas, or the summer show in Chicago.)

If you look carefully, there are lots of telltale clues that this is a CES from the distant past. For instance, Soundesign has a booth. I remember it from my 1970s/80s youth as a company that made crummy, dirt-cheap electronics products which you bought only if you couldn’t afford anything else–and didn’t know until just now that the brand name died in the 1990s.

Over at Sony’s booth, you can see that the company is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its entry into the U.S. market– a brief period in this market given that most Americans today don’t remember a world without Sony. (I also like the humongous set of headphones.)

CES Sony 1980

And here are some real smoking guns, also at Sony’s booth–a man in a leisure suit, turntables, and a tiny cathode-ray TV.

While we’re at it, here are some more photos from CES’s archive. This one’s from the 1980 Winter CES, and everything about it, from the hair to the gear, tells you that it’s from another era. (But I could swear I know where it is in the main hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center–I recognize the restroom sign in the background.)

This photo’s from the first CES, held in 1967. Packard Bell–the defunct consumer electronics company, not the later maker of bad PCs–is there, touting its color TVs. Westinghouse appears to have a big booth. And Panasonic has a profusion of portable radios.

CES 1967

Also from 1967. I’m not sure why the ladies are wearing hats with holes in them, but it’s sort of comforting to see that people in inexplicable attire were part of the show from the beginning.

CES ladies 1967

I wonder if any of the people in the above photos will attend CES 2012? For that matter, I wonder who holds the record for having attended the most editions of the show? Surely there’s somebody out there who attended in 1967 as a fresh-faced recent hire for some company who still makes the trek today as an elder statesman. Or if there isn’t, don’t tell me–I don’t want to know.

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8 Comments For This Post

  1. johnwbaxter Says:

    In 1971, while I was at NCR Rancho Bernardo (San DIego), a new plant appeared next door. When we found out that the plant would be for Sony TV assembly, the general reaction was "There goes the quality".

    Periodically, Sony employees would gather on their loading dock (orginal building) and dispose of reject CRTs by rather happily very athletically tossing them into dumpsters. It seemed like great fun.

    In the early 80s when I was at NCR again NCR had leased their former warehouse to Sony (as less warehouse space was needed to support building more computers). I note the Sony plant was closed in 2006.

    Despite that connection, I never went to CES (whew, back on topic).

  2. Tom Lauterback Says:

    The last photo includes the man who holds the record, Jack Wayman, the show's creator. I made it to 28 shows, but that's a drop in the bucket compared to Jack. No one I've ever known would have had the vision and drive to create anything like the Consumer Electronics Shows other than Jack, a man who helped mold the most exciting industry this country has ever seen. And he even came from the industry, unlike the show's current producers.

  3. Krislyn Says:

    Blast from the past; great photos! I wonder what it will look like in 20 years…

  4. Steve Says:

    I'm almost positive the first photo is from Chicago. McCormick Place exhibit hall at that time had the big windows you see at the back; LVCC as far as I can recall, never had any windows worth mentioning unless you count the Microsoft kind.

  5. Tom Lauterback Says:

    Steve, the first photo is most assuredly McCormick Place. After nearly forty years of exhibiting at and attending shows there, I'm convinced I know every square inch.

  6. Mel Says:

    I recognize those giant Sony headphones, because I had a pair: Sony MDR-1 headphones, some of the first on-the-ear models (previously headphones only surrounded the ear). They were pretty expensive for a college student and sounded great for the day.

  7. Spin Palace Says:

    Fantastic photos! So many things have changed over these years. I wonder how today will look like after 20-30 years…

  8. jeff Bushnell Says:

    I worked for NCR in 73 & 75 in bldg 3 . Woody, can’t remember last name was my supervisor. Thanks for the memories.