A brief history of the National Western Stock Show
See how the National Western Stock Show has changed over the years by browsing our timeline from 1899 to 2010. Here are some excerpts:
1906 –First show opened on Monday January 29 and ran for six days. Attendance was estimated at 15,000 and the Grand Champion steer sold for 33 cents a pound, 23 cents over the market price!
1931 – The 25th National Western presented the first Rodeo in conjunction with the Livestock and Horse Show.
1954 – The Westernaires made their first appearance at the Rodeo.
1981 – The show increased to 12 days and included 21 Rodeo performances. A still-standing record of $301,000 was paid at auction for a Hereford bull.
2006 – National Western celebrates its 100th anniversary! The show’s attendance reached 726,972 for the 16-day show and the grand champion steer sold for $75,000 or $58 per pound!
1899 – Organized livestock events begin in Denver but not on a regular basis.
1905 – Initial meeting of interested Livestock Commission merchants, Stockyards Company Executives, Packers and Cattlemen was held in early December.Site selected was near Denver Stockyards on South Platte River, which is still the location of the 2001 show.
1906 – First show opened on Monday, January 29 and ran for six days. Harry Petrie, Superintendent of the Denver Stockyards was named first General Manager. Attendance was estimated at 15,000 with stockmen visiting from Omaha, Kansas City, Chicago and some eastern cities.
Grand Champion steer sold for 33 cents a pound, 23 cents over the market price.
Street cars, horse drawn carriages and special trains from Union Depot delivered most of the public to the show, which offered free admission.
Name was changed to the Western Stock Show Association, as it is known today. The “not for profit” organization was incorporated on March 10, 1906.
1907 – A “monster” 150 x 175 foot tent was manufactured by a local awning company as the venue for the next two Western Stock Shows.
The Livestock Show was enhanced by the addition of a Horse Division.
1909 – The 1909 show opened on January 18 in the newly constructed 6,000 seat National Amphitheater, erected for $200,000 provided by the Denver Union Stockyard Company. This building still stands today.
Cattle breeds included Aberdeen Angus, Hereford and Shorthorn.
The Horse Show included Drafts and Saddlebreds.
A 25 cent admission was charged, as attendance was increasing and anticipated to reach 100,000.
1911 – Two and three story barns and a club building were constructed.
National Western introduced its first poultry show and its first beef carcass contest.
1912 & 1914 – These were the first bad weather years and resulted in a drop in show attendance, as winter storms limited train travel and visitors from out of state and eastern Colorado.
1915 – The only year the show was cancelled due to a “hoof and mouth” disease epidemic, which prohibited livestock from crossing state lines.
1916 – The Livestock Exchange Building opened as the main building for Denver Union Stockyard Company.
1919 – The Brown Palace Hotel paid a record 50 cents a pound for the Grand Champion steer.
1920 – Ticket prices were raised to 75 cents, and this was the first year the Association had cash in reserve.
1922 – A program for admitting Denver and suburban school children to the show was established.
1926 – The first effects of the Great Depression were felt and lasted through the 1933 show as the National Western marked time in a mode of austerity.
1931 – The 25th National Western presented the first Rodeo in conjunction with the Livestock and Horse Show. Total Rodeo prize money was $7,300. The Lamont Pavilion, a cattle barn, was added for the anniversary show.
1935 – The first Catch-A-Calf contest was held during the show.
1941 – The Grand Champion steer at the 1941 National Western was exhibited by 12 year old Kenny Monfort of Greeley.
1942 – The WPA constructed a huge concrete barn on the facility, marking the first major capital improvement on the grounds in 10 years.
Record cattle entries were drawn to the expanded facility despite the beginning of World War II.
1943 – The Executive Committee decided to invest all profits in War Bonds.
The show was confined to “local” participation because of travel and fuel limitations caused by World War II.
1944 – The Quarter Horse Show and Sale were introduced at the show.
1945 – Two Hereford bulls owned by Dan Thornton (later Governor of Colorado) were sold for $50,000 each, a record for Breeding Cattle at the time.
The show was expanded from 6 to 9 days.
1947 – Denver taxpayers passed a $1.5 million bond issue for the building of the Denver Coliseum.
Another $750,000 to complete the Coliseum was raised by “A Citizens’ Committee for the Stock Show Stadium Fund Campaign” directed by the Western Stock Show Association.
1952 – The Denver Coliseum was finally dedicated on January 10 for the 46th National Western.
1954 – The Westernaires made their first annual appearance at the Rodeo.
1955 – Willard Simms, Editor of the Record Stockman Livestock newspaper was named General Manager of the National Western.
1956 – The show’s Golden Anniversary was a huge success, with entries second only to the record 1948 turnout.
1959 – Appaloosa horse classes were added to go along with Quarter Horses, Palominos and Arabians.
1966 – Livestock entries topped the 4,000 mark for the first time. Charolais cattle were added to the Livestock Show.
1967 – Paint and Pinto classes were added to the Horse Show. 1970 Attendance topped the 200,000 mark for the first time.
1972 – A $2.5 million fund was launched for added facilities and expansion.
“Big Mac”, the Grand Champion steer was ruled ineligible. It had been previously entered at the American Royal Show in Kansas City as a white steer. It had been dyed black for the National Western Stock Show.
1973 – The two-level 300 x 390 foot Hall of Education was opened to the public.
1974 – Competition for girls was added to the 1974 Catch-A-Calf contest.
1975 – The National Sheep Shearing Contest was moved to Denver and has been here ever since.
1976 – Attendance set a record of more than 240,000 and entries reached an all time high of 5,320.
1978 – “Broncomania’ swept Denver, with the football team making its initial Super Bowl appearance. Attendance dipped by 12,500.
Charles Sylvester became General Manager with the retirement of Willard Simms.
1980 – A record 22 cattle breeds and Bison held shows/auctions. This was the first year of the Bison show and sale.
1981 – Attendance soared to more than 360,000 when the show dates were increased to 12 days and included 21 Rodeo performances.
A still-standing record of $301,000 was paid at auction for a Hereford bull.
1983 – President Petry announced the creation of the National Western Scholarship Fund. Initially the Fund provided for three annual $1,000 four-year grants to Colorado State University and the University of Wyoming.
1985 – The downtown parade in advance of the show was revived, and the show offered a record 23 Rodeo performances and drew a record attendance of 439,000.
The large attendance required the Denver Fire Department to close access to the grounds for almost an hour on the first Saturday, the initial sign that the National Western was in need of an even larger facility.
1987 – The International Center was opened for the first time and registered over 600 guests.
1988 – Show was expanded to 14 days and attendance topped the half million mark for the first time at 500,301.
Dog Weight Pulls began at the 1988 show.
1989 – Pat Grant headed up “National Western 2000”, a fund-raising group organized to support the November City of Denver ballot proposal to bring the National Western $30 million for building expansion.
The National Western Volunteer Program was established.
1991 – The Expo Hall and Stadium Hall were completed just in time for the show.
1993 – Mutton Bustin’ for kids becomes a popular new attraction at the Rodeo, which had a record attendance of its own with a crowd of 178,012, the most since 1986.
The Coors Western Art Exhibit and Sale, a benefit for the National Western Scholarship fund, premiered at the 1993 show. This western art exhibition began as a joint inspiration of Coors Brewing Company and the National Western Stock Show.
1995 – The Events Center, a state-of-the-art equestrian arena with a 150 x 300 foot floor, was dedicated at the show.
The Mexican Rodeo Extravaganza, inaugurated in the Denver Coliseum, was a sell out. The Working Stock Dog competition began.
The Grand Champion steer and Reserve Champion were ruled ineligible due to the illegal use of the drug Clenbuterol.
1996 – The 90th National Western Stock Show was expanded to 16 days, with 23 Rodeo performances, 11 Horse Shows performances and two Mexican Rodeo Extravaganzas. Attendance exceeds 600,000.
1996 was also the first year for “An Evening of Dancing Horses”, featuring musical freestyle riding performances choreographed for individuals and groups.
1997 – A record 23 breeds of cattle had a show and/or sale
Family Fun Night was added.
In December of 1997 the National Western was selected as the world’s #1 Indoor Rodeo at the Pro Rodeo Cowboys’ Association convention.
1998 – The Wild West Show, patterned after the great Buffalo Bill shows of yesteryear, made its debut, and two Professional Bull Riders (PBR) performances were added. Dancing Horses expanded to two performances.
National Western went on-line for the first time at nationalwestern.com .
National Western acquired the Bar S property.
1999 – 500 close-in parking spaces were added on the Bar S site.
Elk and Yak sales were added to the livestock sales program.
Olympic qualifying competition for the United States Equestrian Reining Horse Team makes its debut.
“Gold Buckle” ring-side luxury seating was added to all rodeo performances.
Attendance records were set for both single day and entire run – 68,357 and 603,328 respectively.
National Western was recognized by the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, listed as one of the top 100 events of the year in the US by the American Business Association and named Rodeo of the Year by Events Business News Magazine.
2000 – New events in the 2000 show included a dairy cow milking exhibition, Wild Horse Races at the Rodeo, and a Stick Horse Rodeo for kids A new attendance record of 631,801 was set, as Denver enjoyed great weather. A Customer Relations area was added.
The National Western Scholarship Program added 10 grants and increased its number of scholarships to 51 for the fall term 2000.
Miniature Hereford cattle were judged for the first time at the 2000 show.
2001 – This was the first year for the Boer Goat show, and the Antique Tractor Parade and Show.
2002 – The Stock Show set an all-time record attendance of more than 632,000.
Guy Elliott retired as Rodeo Manager and took his final ride around the Coliseum Arena in that capacity.
The Team Penning was moved to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds for space reasons. The event was held with great success and a record payout in premium money.
The Quarter Horse Versatility Ranch Horse Competition was held for the first time at National Western with a great deal of interest from exhibitors and spectators seeking a return to the all-around versatile working ranch horse.
After a few-year slump in entries in the Coors Draft Horse Show, entries rebounded. The show enjoyed a total of sixteen 6-Horse Hitch entries.
The Mexican Rodeo Extravaganza sold out for the first time ever on both performances. The success is attributed to the spectacular performances given by the two bull fighters from Mexico.
2003 – General Manager Chuck Sylvester retired after serving the National Western Stock Show for 25 years in that capacity.
The National Western Stock Show recorded a record attendance of 641,033.
A new record for breeding cattle entries was set at 4,491.
The Junior Livestock Auction had record-high earnings of more than $500,000.
Mike Shaw of Denver, Colo., was the first-ever buyer to purchase three grand champion animals at the Junior Livestock Auction. He also holds the record for bid price at $110,500.
National Western hosted the Colorado Rocky Mountain Fiddle Championships for the first time.
2004 – The Gambler’s Choice Opening Jumping Stake became a ticketed event at the 2004 Stock Show. The event was initiated during the 2003 National Western Stock Show.
National Western became the first national stock show to host a bucking bull sale. The Best of Three Buckers Sale incorporated a 2-year-old bull futurity, bucking heifer sale and a yearling bull sale.
National Western’s management structure changed to include staff vice presidents for the first time in history.
National Western hosted the “Bellringer Select” bred female sale for the first time during Stockman’s Day.
2005 – SuperDogs makes its debut as a ticketed event at the National Western Stock Show.
The National Western doubled its number of ticketed performances on the first weekend, adding two ProRodeos to the slate of events for the first time in history.
Free horsemanship clinics returned to the National Western as Montanan Curt Pate led two workshops in handling cattle.
National Western joined forces with Superior Livestock Auctions to hold the Stock Show’s first-ever video sale.
The Cowboy Experience children’s activity center made its debut in the Stadium Hall.
2006 – National Western celebrates its 100th anniversary; an attendance record is shattered when recorded attendance reaches 726,972 for the 16-day show.
Martin Luther King, Jr. African-American Heritage Rodeo makes its debut on the National Western’s slate of ticketed performances.
The Activity Tent debuts as an additional interactive educational area for children attending the Stock Show.
A 1904 rail car, donated by the Ben Houston Family, is set in the Stockyards to display how cattle were transported to the Stock Show during its early years.
Twelve junior market lambs are disqualified from the 2006 competition due to unethical tampering and the presence of needle marks along the major muscles of the carcasses.
2007 – National Western hosts the International Livestock Congress-USA for the first time.
A record five consecutive weeks of snowstorms occur during the set up and run of the 2007 Stock Show.
The National Western Horse Show hosted the North American Six-Horse Hitch Classic Series Finals, which served as the six-horse hitch world championships, for the first time.
2008 – National Western hosts the first-ever American Quarter Horse Association Versatility Ranch Horse World Championship Show.
The National Western sets opening day (27,793) and largest single-day (68,610) attendance records.
The National Western Donkey and Mule Show hosted the Official Donkey Mascot Contest for the 2008 Democratic National Convention to be held in Denver.
2009 – An all-new Western Heritage Week took place in the Stockyards, January 19-25, 2009. Western Heritage Week included the first annual Stock Dog Sale, first annual All Breeds Bull Sale, a Celebrity Chuck Wagon Cook-off and more.
Interactive fun was enjoyed for the entire family in the new Ames Activity Pavilion. National Western visitors participated in pedal tractor races and stick horse rodeos. Plus, there were be horseshoe tosses, dummy roping and other contests for prizes.
2010 – For the first time in its 104 years, heifers were shown in the market division at the National Western Stock Show. The Grand Champion Market Heifer, Lidy, went on to make even more history when Judge Dan Hoge chose her as overall Reserve Grand Champion. Lidy was exhibited by Bailey Core of Pleasantville, Iowa.
Clint Craig set a National Western record by scoring a 92 to win the PRCA Bull-Riding on “Ole Yeller”
Kody Lostroh of Longmont, Colorado, won the 2010 PBR Denver Chute-Out following his incredible 2009 season as PBR’s Million-Dollar Man.
2011 – Paul Andrews takes the reins as new President and Chief Executive Officer, replacing Pat Grant who becomes Chairman of the Long Range Planning Group.
The New National Western Wild West Show premieres.
In spite severe cold and snow during the first week of the Show, attendance still hits 644,818
2012 – Despite severe weather much of show, attendance ended at 636,662
2013 – Stock show creates a new rodeo for opening day called “Colorado vs. World”. Moves to 3 rodeo performances on opening day as Colorado champions face World champions in this rodeo.
First ever Fan Appreciation Day is created as the last day of Stock Show.
The WSSA creates a new event to be held each April in Denver. It will be called “Rodeo All-Star Weekend”. The first event dates are April 4-6, 2013.
2014 – NW Nursery is created in Events Center, showing newborns with their moms on display.
Attendance increases to 640,022.
Jr. livestock auction set an all time record for sales of $714,900
2015 – Denver voters overwhelmingly approved Measure 2C, which will invest in Denver’s tourism industry by improving the Colorado Convention Center and creating the new National Western Center, a year-round educational, research, commerce and entertainment campus that will be the permanent home for the National Western Stock Show held each January.
The first annual National Western BBQ Throwdown is held. It is a Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned event. Forty world’s elite barbecue teams will compete in four barbecue categories including chicken, pork, ribs and brisket.
The National Western Stock Show announces the largest single day attendance in Stock Show history with 68,757 fans entering the gates on Saturday, January 17th. The number exceeds the former Stock Show record of 68,610 set back in 2008.
Jr. livestock auction sets all time record for sales of $754,750.
Attendance grows to 682,539 with good weather and exciting shows
2016 – The first Invitational Ranch Rodeo and NRCHA Shows are held during the National Western Horse Show.
Jr. livestock auction sets all time high for sales of $886,250.
Attendance soars to second highest all time mark of 686,745
2017 – The Stock Show parade is cancelled because “The risk of animal injury and injury to people is far too great with the 4 to 8 inches of snow predicted and six degree temperatures”
Jr. livestock auction sets all time high for sales of $912,750.
The final Sunday sets a record with 42,661 attendees.
The Western Stock Show Association purchases the Denver County Fair. The first fair under the umbrella of the National Western is held in July.
The National Western Scholarship Trust Awards $500,000 to Agriculture Students, a $100,000 increase which increases the number of scholarship recipients to more than 90.
Strong attendance continues as the show ends with 684,580.
WSSA writes new Vision, Mission and Values statement for the Association.
2018 – The Coors Western Art Sale & Exhibit celebrates its 25th Anniversary.
The National Western experiences it’s second highest attendance ever, 705,574. Attendance records are set for three days: opening day – 52,969; Day 2 – 50,577, and Day 4 – 33,149
The first ever “Horseman’s Challenge” debuts at show. Riders navigate difficult obstacles on horseback.
2019 – The first Youth Ranch Horse Mentor Match and Youth Freestyle Reining Showcase are held at the National Western Horse Show.
The National Western set a new opening Saturday attendance record with 53,806 guests.
The Grand Champion Steer sold for a record $150,000 to Ames Construction Company.
For the third time in its 113 years the National Western attendance was in excess of 700,000 guests.
National Western Stock Show Attendance Figures
2019 – 701,656
2018 – 705,574
2017 – 684,580
2016 – 686,745
2015 – 682,539
2014 – 640,022
2013 – 628,366
2012 – 636,662
2011 – 644,818
2010 – 633,003
2009 – 643,100
2008 – 673,449
2007 – 649,637
2005 – 633,554
2004 – 625,345
2003 – 641,003
2002 – 632,296
2001 – 623,182
2000 – 631,182
1999 – 606,628
1998 – 602,391
1997 – 583,941
13 Day Shows
1995 – 585,685
1994 – 527,606
1993 – 514,713
1992 – 485,584
2018 – Tony Frank, DVM, PhD
2017 – John Malone, PhD
2016 – Michael J. Sullivan
2015 – Philip F. Anschutz
2014 – Fred C. Hamilton
2013 – Dr. John Matsushima
2012 – Lynn Cheney
2011 – Pete Coors
2010 – Tom and Becky Kourlis
2009 – Robinson Brothers
2008 – Hank Brown
2007 – Cortlandt S. Dietler
2006 – Sue Anschutz-Rodgers
2005 – George Marvin Beeman
2004 – H.A. “Dave” & Jean True Family
2003 – William J. (Bill) Hybl
2002 – Albert C. Yates
2001 – Ned & Mary Belle Grant Family
2000 – Justice Byron White
1999 – W.D. “Bill” Farr
1998 – Daniel L. Ritchie
1997 – Brownie & Thurman “Fum” McGraw
1996 – Cliff Hansen
1995 – Ben R. Houston
1994 – Rollin D. Barnard
1993 – Dick Cheney
1992 – William K. Coors
1991 – Kenneth W. Monfort
1990 – Alan K. Simpson
1989 – Governor John & Ann Love
1987 – Charles C. Gates
1986 – Nicholas Robert Petry
1985 – William H. McNichols, Jr.
1984 – Allan & Gerald Phipps
1983 – Pete Smythe
1982 – Aksel Nielsen
1981 – Ed H. Honnen
1980 – Frank H. Ricketson, Jr.
1979 – Willard Simms
1978 – Robert “Red” Fenwick