While growth has definitely pushed the country out of Phoenix, remnants of the western way of life remain to remind us of our roots.
Agriculture plays a vital role in both the history and economics of Arizona. Recent government statistics estimate Arizona agriculture is over a $23.3 billion industry. The show’s founders knew the importance of agriculture when they held an organizational meeting, but surely they had no idea the 1948 Phoenix Stock Show would evolve into one of the largest livestock events in the Southwest.
The show’s first organizational meeting took place on June 16, 1948, at the Westward Ho Hotel, with both Arizona businessmen and cattlemen in attendance. From the ranks, Frank Snell was elected as the first show president. His influence not only shaped future shows, but also he played an integral role in creating modern Phoenix. Snell helped establish the Arizona Public Service Co. and build the Phoenix Civic Plaza. His first major decision was staging the show at the end of December to avoid competing with the annual Spring Hereford Show in Tucson.
The Phoenix Stock Show (aka Phoenix Livestock Show) debuted December 14, 1948, at the Arizona State Fairgrounds under the direction of Dr. E.L. Scott of the Suncrest Hereford Ranch. The first show attracted 449 Hereford, Angus and Shorthorn cattle, with 42 exhibitors from five states. Estimated attendance was 6,552 people – the results and enthusiastic support were overwhelming. Plans for the next show began immediately.
In the summer of 1949, Lee and Pearl TePoel moved to Phoenix from Denver, where they had been affiliated with the National Western Stock Show. They took over the direction of the second show, which was scheduled for January 1950. The junior division added a classification system for junior steers. While attendance and participation remained the same, enthusiasm climbed.
As an attempt to increase interest in the show, a calf scramble was planned for the 1951 show. Young people in 4-H clubs and FFA chapters chased calves around the ring, trying to secure a halter on the calf and lead it to the gate. While the show no longer features the calf scramble, the junior division has evolved into one of the largest junior livestock shows in the nation.
The 1951 show saw an increase in all areas. That year, a new cattle breed was exhibited at the show, bringing the number of breeds represented to four: Angus, Hereford, Shorthorn and Brahman. The officers realized that in order to ensure future success, they had to properly finance the show. A plan was adopted, making individuals who donated money to the show “members” of the show. Membership levels were categorized by the amount donated. The same system is still in use, with levels ranging from a $15 student membership to a $1,000 lifetime membership.
Since the show received nationwide contributions, the officers decided to change the name to the Arizona National Livestock Show. The name went into effect prior to the 1952 show. The Arizona National was on its way to becoming a major nationally-known event. Interestingly, though the official name change was made decades ago, the show is still commonly referred to as the Phoenix Livestock Show or the Phoenix Stock Show.
Many changes were incorporated into the show during the remainder of the 1950s. In 1952, the American Hereford Association took “moving pictures” of the show for use in their production of a film depicting various phases of the Hereford industry. The National Farm and Home Hour held a live radio broadcast from Phoenix during this show, interviewing the show’s secretary Frank Armer. The Arizona National built five more buildings in 1953 to accommodate its growing number of exhibitors. Breed categories increased to six, adding the Santa Gertrudis and Charolais breeds. Miss America was on hand in 1958 to present trophies. By the end of the decade, 834 head of cattle were brought in by 179 exhibitors from 15 states. Attendance was estimated at 21,636 people with representation from all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, England, France and South America.
Everything ran smoothly for the Arizona National during the beginning of the next decade. A Quarter Horse show was introduced in 1964. Miss America —Arizona’s own Vonda Kay Van Dyke— visited the show in 1965. Later shows welcomed entertainers Slim Pickens and John Wayne. Hundreds of volunteers put in long hours, and it paid off with attendance hitting 25,763 in 1967. While the offices of the Arizona National have always been on the state fairgrounds, locations of the offices changed from the cattle barn to the newly constructed Coliseum in 1966. In 1968 the offices were reassigned to the second level of the State Fair grandstands where they stayed until 2002. The historic Party Gras building housed the Arizona National offices from 2002 until 2017 when the old Maricopa County Fair offices above grandstands were remodeled and the Arizona National returned to the grandstands.
The founding members of the Arizona National created a show format that has withstood the test of time. Determination and hard work from several hundred of the show’s members have propelled the show into the 21st Century. Eleven breeds of cattle are now represented: Angus, Brahman, Brangus, British White, Charolais, Hereford, Maine Anjou, Mini Hereford, Red Angus, All Other Breeds and a All Other Percentage division. Today, swine, sheep and goats are also exhibited. Attracting more than 5,250 entries from 37 states and over 9,000 spectators in 2023, the Arizona National Livestock Show continues to educate the public about the values of agriculture by providing a window into the western lifestyle.
The Arizona National is investing in the future of agriculture and awards $40,000 annually in scholarships to students who have participated in the livestock show. Scholarships are awarded to students currently enrolled in a college or university and who have demonstrated an interest in agriculture.
The Farm Experience, Ranch Rodeo and the Cowboy Classics Western Art & Gear Show are just a few of the events which take place during the Show.
The Arizona National Livestock Show, Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting youth and promoting livestock and agriculture to the public while preserving our western heritage.