Cobo’s First Bloom: The First Convention in 1960

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A “Welcome Florists” sign greets attendees to FTD’s 50th anniversary convention at the newly opened Cobo Hall in 1960.

For many people, Detroit’s Cobo Hall instantly stirs visions of the chrome and steel on display each January during the North American International Auto Show, however at the venue’s first major event, you were far more likely to find a Chrysanthemum than a Chrysler.  With construction still winding down, Cobo opened in August of 1960, just in time for a massive convention marking the 50th anniversary of Detroit-based Florists’ Telegraph Delivery (FTD).  To ensure that even far-flung florists who could not attend would still be able to experience the festivities, FTD commissioned a film of the event.  A copy of this film currently resides in the collection of the Detroit Historical Society.  It has recently been digitized and made available online as part of our Detroit Video History Archive.

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Morning attendees could visit a French-themed cafe overlooking the river, staffed by waitresses in maid costumes.

The film takes the viewer event-by-event and day-by-day through the convention, beginning with registration on Sunday, August 14th and ending with a giant floral birthday cake at the President’s Banquet and Ball on Thursday the 18th.  Attendees’ schedules were jam-packed with not only important business meetings and training sessions, but also fun events such as a variety show and a barbecue at Greenfield Village.  At least on film, the scale and tone of the convention elevates even the serious tasks to the level of spectacle: mariachi bands are brought in to help executives campaign for corporate office and a four-hour floral arrangement training seminar is held on an elaborate 64-foot stage.

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The main stage in Cobo Hall was an impressive 64 feet long and featured this rotating element.  The stage was the setting for the Floral Design Institute, a four-hour program in which florists from around the world demonstrated floral arranging techniques.  Although intended for FTD’s florists, tickets were sold to excited members of the public for a pair of repeat performances later that day.

The florists were kept busy even after hours with programming at the adjacent Ford Auditorium.  The convention’s second night was capped off with a star-studded live version of the popular television variety show the Bell Telephone Hour.  The show was hosted by prolific opera soprano Elaine Malbin, and actor Keith Andes, whom audiences would have recognized as the titular cop of television’s This Man Dawson.  The cast also featured a comedy duo comprised of Tom Poston, a Steve Allen Show regular and future Bob Newhart Show cast member, and Elliot Reed, who starred beside Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blonds.  Pop singer Mindy Carson, and Miss America 1957, Marilyn Van Derbur, rounded out the cast.  The Detroit Symphony Orchestra provided the night’s musical accompaniment, with some help from jazz and folk groups.

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Key punch operators prepare impressive stacks of punch cards in the high-tech headquarters of FTD.  The company was based out of the Lafayette Building in downtown Detroit, but broke ground on their new offices several blocks to the west as part of the convention’s festivities.

Perhaps the film’s most interesting segment is a tour of FTD’s headquarters in the Lafayette Building.  Here, the narrator explains the company’s cutting edge system based around IBM punch cards.  Key punch operators are shown preparing tall stacks of cards for the company’s automated electronic sorting and accounting machines.  The sequence offers a great glimpse into the pre-personal computer office of yesteryear.

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The five-day long festivities concluded with a giant floral cake at the President’s Banquet and Ball.

While Detroit has had a long history as a convention town, Cobo represented a renewed focus on bolstering this economic pillar.  In October of 1960, the Automobile Manufacturers Association brought the National Automobile Show—a long-time New York fixture—to Cobo.  Surprisingly, the Detroit Auto Dealers Association’s kept their Detroit Auto Show (the forerunner to the current North American International Auto Show) at the Light Guard Armory for several more years.  The Detroit Auto Show finally came to Cobo in 1965, appropriately enough to celebrate their 50th anniversary.

The full 33-minute film of FTD’s convention is available for viewing below, and many more hours of video can be found on our YouTube channel.

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