BBC Future

CES: Back to the future

  • It started with a ...ribbon cutting
    The first CES was a spin-out of the Chicago Music Show, which was then the largest showcase for consumer electronics. It had just 100 exhibitors. (Copyright: International CES)
  • Size matters
    The show has grown massively in the last 45 years. Today, it takes up to 18 days to set it up, run and then break it down again. (Copyright: International CES)
  • Tech torrent
    By the 80s the show pulled in 100,000 attendees. Today it has grown to 150,000 people who come to wade through more than 20,000 new products. (Copyright: International CES)
  • What happens in Vegas
    After trying several locations around the US, it permanently moved to Sin City in 1995 and has never looked back. (Copyright: International CES)
  • Future visions
    CES has always been about looking forward, seeing the introduction of a series of notable firsts from cheap electronic watches to the latest PCs. (Copyright: International CES)
  • Epic launches
    The first video recorder, the first camcorder, the first DVD players, the first CD players. The list of debuts at CES goes on and on. (Copyright: International CES)
  • Epic fails
    It doesn’t always go so well. Ever used a laserdisc? Remember Microsoft’s Bob? How about Apple’s Pippin? The list of tech flops also goes on and on. (Copyright: International CES)
  • Cringe worthy keynotes
    Celebrity endorsements are as common as cheap tablets, leading to various odd pairings including Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler with Intel’s Craig Barrett. (Copyright: International CES)
  • Shrinking skirts
    Recently, exhibitors have come under fire for using scantily-clad 'booth babes' to show products. Their outfits are a far cry from those of the 70s. (Copyright: International CES)
  • No go zone
    However, very few members of the public ever get to see these debuts and antics, as the fair is closed to the public. (Copyright: International CES)
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – one of the world’s largest fairs dedicated to technology – opened in Las Vegas this week.

The annual gathering has become a Mecca for gadget fans, attracting more than 150,000 people to wander its 170,000 sq m (1.85m sq ft) of floorspace in search of the latest trends amongst the 20,000 new products debuted each year.

In fact, it has grown so big that some now question whether it is still relevant and whether it has a future.

But over the last four decades, the annual trade show has undeniably introduced the world to many of the consumer electronic trends that shaped our world.. and many that didn’t.

How did it grow so big and why does it attract so much attention every year?  

Explore these retro pictures of the CES of yesteryear.

More stunning image galleries:

Gruesome tools and intimate views

Christmas treats and the end of the world

Bathing snow monkeys, a tweeting pope and elephant dung coffee.

Architectural giants and a new way of seeing the Moon

Red pandas, Saturn and Nature’s unstoppable forces

The world's largest bloom, the world's largest aquarium and the world's fastest sailing boat

Venice under water, a total eclipse and a pedestrian-avoiding car

Space shuttle, Baumgartner and Hurricane Sandy

The best of 2012 galleries:

A year in space

The year in technology

A year of discovery

People of the year

The year in weather

The year in wildlife

Weird and wonderful


New frontiers

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