Farming machinery trade show at Grand Palais, 1923, Agence Rol. Agence photographique, Bibliothèque nationale de France, No Copyright - Other Known Legal Restrictions

Large-scale commercial fairs usually take place once a year, lasting for several days and often returning to the same location. While ultimately aimed at boosting sales, they often function rather as a showcase than as a direct ground for selling.

For visitors, a trade fair manned by a wide range of companies and brands is the ideal occasion to try and compare. These ladies at the “Wiener Modemesse” (a fashion fair in Vienna) enjoy the opportunity to test before they buy at a stand with umbrellas.

Early commercial fairs often boasted a rich variety of goods. Later, they focused increasingly on a specific branch of industry, which eventually gave rise to the trade show: a gathering of competing specialist brands, aimed at winning over the consumer.

Focusing on innovations in cosmetics, the Hair and Beauty Fair at Olympia in London offered 13 countries the opportunity to show off their best products and experts, such as Mr. John B. Lohle, seen here working on his creation Autumn. Also pictured: the novelty permanent waving equipment invented by Eugene Suter, featuring heaters with two windings that treated the ends and roots separately.

All industries involved in the dairy production and distribution chain were assembled at the Milchwirtschaftliche Ausstellung in Berlin, 1937. This exhibition clerk was photographed while finishing preparations with a safety check on a cow display.

The biggest trade show in the UK was the British Industries Fair: an annual display of the manufactures of Great Britain, the British Dominions and Colonies. In 1935, one of the most noted exhibitors at the British Industries Fair was sculptor and inventor Courtenay Pollock. Shown here is his newest creation: a lifelike model of a woman, equipped with an electric motor. Capable of laughing, crying and smoking, Pollock’s 'vamp' robotic mannequin was said to be the nearest approach to human life ever produced.

Companies active in technology-driven industries, in particular, had much to gain by demonstrating their range and expertise among peers. In its nearly 200 years of existence, photography - a topic appealing to professionals as well as amateurs - has been the focus of many trade shows.

The Photographic Fair in Berlin of 1925 went exceptionally big on hardware. Towering high above the exhibition ground was this giant camera, standing over 30 ft. high and equipped to produce instantaneous photographs by artificial light.