Hamilton Exhibits is set to celebrate its 70th Anniversary this fall.
Hamilton Display Manufacturing Company was founded in 1947 by Renzie Hamilton and his father-in-law Sterner Faussett. Renzie had worked for Citizens Gas of Indianapolis in their advertising department making models and believed a market existed for a display company. He resigned from Citizens Gas and opened the company in downtown Indianapolis in a building referred to as “the barn” – a two-story garage on Minnesota Street.
Kenneth Hamilton joined his brother Renzie approximately one year later, and the company moved to 226 North Alabama Street to accommodate its growth. In 1954, they were joined by another brother, Bill Hamilton, who was responsible for another division, the Hamilton Airport Advertising Company.
Two other Hamilton brothers, Rich and Bobby, were not involved in the business.
The business moved again in 1959 to 611 North Capital Avenue. In 1960, the business became known as Hamilton Displays, Inc., and by then was known as “the king of floats”, since they built almost 70% of the floats that were in the Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade. Renzie was a member of the Indy 500 Festival board of directors, and was heavily involved in the planning of the parade, as his company was the officially approved float builder.
In 1964, the Hamilton-built ‘Princess Float’ won the top award for design in the Indy 500 Festival Parade. And in 1968, Hamilton Displays built the Indiana University Big Ten float for that year’s Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, CA. The float was entitled “The Greatest Adventure” and featured Ms. Kit Field on board as Miss Indiana University.
The company leased space from the National Guard Armory at 2015 South Pennsylvania Street in Indianapolis in 1969 so that the floats could be built in larger quarters. Some of Hamilton’s earliest trade show display clients were Citizens Gas, Stewart-Warner, Pittman-Moore, Indiana Bell Telephone, Diamond Chain and Wheelhorse.
In 1976, Renzie was in charge of décor at a USO benefit at the Indiana Convention Center, where the guest of honor was Bob Hope, who happened to be celebrating his birthday as well. The Hamilton Displays team handled all stage sets, room design, and table decorations.
In January 1990, Dan Cantor and Joel Coleman purchased Hamilton Displays from Kenneth Hamilton, and in January 1991 combined Hamilton with their largest local competitor, Dimensional Designs. Operations of the two companies and their five warehouses were joined in a new, purpose-built 200,000 square-foot facility in the Hunter Creek Business Park on Indianapolis’s east side in late 1991. Dan and Katy Cantor purchased Joel Coleman’s interest in the company in 1993.
Asked about the purchase, Dan said, “Actually, the opportunity was almost rejected on the first review, because the old Hamilton initially looked like a construction company to me…there was lots of saw dust. During the second, more thorough, review, I reclassified the potential purchase as business or marketing services. I was very attracted to the design, engineering and fabrication aspects of the business, but also the client services piece. ‘Hamilton Displays’ was one of 50 prospects reviewed over a three-year period from 1987 to 1989. We pursued five companies to final stages of negotiation, and purchased Hamilton in January 1990.”
Dan had owned several other businesses before venturing into the trade show world. He received an MBA in Finance from Indiana University and a BS in Business from Miami of Ohio. Dan serves on the Executive Board of the Experiential Designers & Producers Association (EDPA).
While the trade show exhibit business has always been an area of expertise for the company, throughout its history there have been a variety of divisions launched based on the needs at the time. Hamilton Airport Advertising Company provided design and production of display advertising at Indianapolis International Airport for many years.
In the early 1950’s, the company promoted a variety of point-of-sale displays, including the Tel-A-Story Junior, a desk-top slide viewer offered to industrial and commercial sales departments. A shoe-box sized metal container opened from the top, a small viewing screen popped up, and photo slides were loaded into the box and then projected onto the screen.
At two other times during its history, the company operated separate divisions for the interiors and retail fixtures business. While still doing work in this segment, it is no longer a separate division.
Hamilton Expo Support Services provided labor and show management for trade shows and events at the Indianapolis Convention Center. And for a number of years, Hamilton Graphics operated as a separate provider for graphic design and production. But at the end of the day, the trade show and event business has remained at the core of the company’s capabilities.
Over the course of Hamilton’s history, the company has operated sales offices and a production and warehouse facility in a variety of other US cities, all while maintaining headquarters operations in Indianapolis. From 1987 – 1998, a sales office in Louisville, Kentucky served clients in that region, including Valvoline, Pyroil, Teledyne and Federal Express.
A sales office that started in St. Louis, Missouri in 1990 was expanded to include production and warehousing in 1997 and grew to serve some of the region’s most prestigious companies. The 1998 debut of the Budweiser Brewhouse exhibit launched a long relationship with Anheuser-Busch. Other key accounts in the St. Louis office included Ralston Purina (now Nestle Purina), Graybar Electric, and Computerized Medical Systems. The St. Louis division was sold in 2000.
In 2010, a sales office opened in Denver, Colorado, serving clients such as Baxter Healthcare, Firehouse Subs, Caris, and Miraca Life Sciences.
September 2015 marked the official launch of Hamilton’s Chicago sales and design studio. A staff of sales, design and project management experts are based in an office suite in the suburb of Downers Grove, serving clients in the Chicagoland area and beyond.
Back in 1997, the company name was changed from Hamilton Displays to Hamilton Exhibits, and in 2007 new branding and a new logo were launched to effectively brand Hamilton and represent the company’s broad range of capabilities.
While the company has changed much over the years, the culture has remained consistent; that of a family business. The Hamilton brothers and Dan Cantor have been successful at creating an environment where client care and employee satisfaction remain top priorities. And the spirit of giving back to the community remains strong.
A variety of local charities have benefitted from this philosophy over the years, however, one of the key elements today is the annual Hamilton Hugs campaign, held during the Christmas holiday. Employees donate both time and gifts to benefit less fortunate children and families in the community.
That spirit of giving back also extends to the trade show industry. In addition to Dan’s involvement on their Board of Directors, a number of Hamilton senior leaders have been involved in the EDPA, EDPA Foundation, Randy Smith Memorial Golf Classic and their local chapters.
As for the next 70 years, the path is relatively clear: remain the family-oriented company that serves its clients and its employees, look for new opportunities while responding to the consistent change in the trade show and event industry and the economy, and prepare for the next generation of leaders. Exactly as Renzie Hamilton would have done it.
About Hamilton Exhibits
Hamilton brings 70 years’ experience in everything about exhibit solutions: concept, design, fabrication, logistics, project management, and more. We create brand experiences that engage consumers through sight, sound, touch, curiosity, and imagination.