90 things to know about the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in its 90th year

Archival image of the Houston Rodeo (Image provided by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo)

HOUSTON – The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is celebrating its 90th year and that means KPRC 2 has 90 things to know about this iconic event.

In 1931, The Houston Fat Stock Show and Livestock Exposition is created after seven men meet for lunch at the Texas State Hotel, with a goal of preserving the cattle industry along the Texas Gulf Coast area.

  1. The rodeo started in 1932. Talks about forming a rodeo began with seven men who met for lunch at Houston’s Texas State Hotel in 1931. They aimed to raise the profile of the Gulf Coast cattle industry and help it prosper as the Great Depression raged.
  2. The first rodeo attracted 2,000 attendees and lost $2,800.
  3. The first show was held at the 1928 Democratic Convention Hall. The rodeo convention hall burned in 1936. The hall was demolished in 1937.
  4. The first organized rodeo was held in 1938. Reserved seats cost $1.10. Annual memberships cost $5.00 that year -- the first in which memberships were offered.
  5. The first rodeo offered free barbecue and impromptu rodeos to get people into the seats.
  6. Each year, Houston Methodist sends approximately 80 rotating health care professionals to the Houston rodeo, including EMTs, athletic trainers, physical therapists, massage therapists, orthopedic surgeons, ER doctors, primary care doctors, chiropractors and nurses.
  7. The Sam Houston Coliseum replaced the first rodeo venue in 1938. During this year, the rodeo, horse show and downtown parade was added to the event.
  8. You can see all of the Houston Rodeo concert performers from its long history (alphabetized) here.
  9. The Rodeo has a magazine.
  10. Gene Autry is the first star entertainer to perform at the Houston Rodeo in 1942.
  11. In 1942, the rodeo was dedicated to the war effort.
  12. The rodeo has been canceled three times in its history. Twice for COVID-19 safety and once after a fire burned Sam Houston Hall in 1937.
  13. The Calf Scramble began in 1942. The calf scramble takes place in the rodeo arena with several young students outnumbering loose calves. The student who catches a calf receives a certificate to purchase a registered bee heifer or market steer to show at the Houston Livestock Show the following year.
  14. The first carnival, parade, souvenir program and professional ticketed rodeo debuted in 1938.
  15. The rodeo moved to the Astrodome in 1966, going from 9,000 seats in the coliseum to 42,000 seats in the Astrodome (ultimately 58,000 seats in the Dome).
  16. The Astrodome was a cooperation between Harris County and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Built on land close to the stadium, the rodeo financed and built the Livestock Exposition Building called the Astrohall.
  17. In the early 1990s, the rodeo became an invitational and only top contestants were brought in.
  18. The NRG Stadium attendance record for a concert was on Sunday, March 17, 2019. The performers were George Strait, with special guests Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen (concert only). The attendance was 80,108.
  19. More than 250 teams, led by barbecue aficionados, compete in the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. While most team tents are invitation-only, visitors can enjoy several public venues, including The Garden, Rockin’ Bar-B-Que Saloon and the Chuckwagon.
  20. The attendance record for the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest is 47,883, made in 2017.
  21. The top paid rodeo/concert attendance record for an individual performance was for Go Tejano Day on March 10, 2019, for Los Tigres Del Norte, with 75,586 people.
  22. The official mission of the rodeo is to “promote agriculture by providing a family-friendly live entertainment experience that educates the public, supports Texas youth, and showcases Western heritage.”
  23. Since the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo began in 1932, more than $550 million has been committed to the youth of Texas and education.
  24. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is one of the largest scholarship providers in the U.S. The Rodeo has presented more than 20,000 scholarships valued at $260 million since 1957. Each year, more than 800 scholarships are awarded to Texas students by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
  25. Each year, the Houston Livestock Show draws thousands of Texas 4-H and FFA exhibitors to compete at the world’s largest livestock show, each hoping to take home the coveted title of Houston Champion. Since 1932, $195 million has been committed to exhibitors through premiums and calf scramble certificates.
  26. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has presented nearly $84 million in research, grants and educational programs to more than 100 organizations and institutions in Texas.
  27. Graduate assistantship funds are awarded to specific graduate programs at various Texas universities. Each university program administers the graduate assistantship application and selection process. Since 1932, more than $15 million has been awarded to graduate assistantship programs in Texas.
  28. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is officially described as a Section 501(c)(3) charity that benefits youth, supports education, and facilitates better agricultural practices through exhibitions and presentation.
  29. Committee members each donate an average of 67.7 hours of service to the rodeo every year. Every single zip code in Harris County has committee members living in its neighborhoods. The committee volunteer group is 53 percent female and 47 percent male.
  30. The mayor of Houston and the Harris County judge present proclamations each year declaring Go Texan Days.
  31. Go Texan Days last the duration of the Rodeo, but most businesses and schools encourage employees and students to dress up and celebrate Go Texan Day the Friday prior to the downtown parade.
  32. An individual must be a member of one of the sanctioned trail rides to ride a horse in the rodeo parade. People riding on floats are invited by the float presenters.
  33. In 1966, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo moved from the Sam Houston Coliseum to the Astrodome. The first performance in the Astrodome drew 25,340 spectators, and attendance for one performance even topped 40,000 — almost five times the number of people the Coliseum could hold.
  34. In 1961, the Houston Fat Stock Show becomes the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo before introducing the new “Bowlegged H” logo in 1966.
  35. Elvis Presley graced the show stage in the Astrodome in 1970 and again in 1974.
  36. Elvis’ attendance record of 43,614 fans for one concert was a record that stood for eight years.
  37. In 1974, the first World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest was held.
  38. A cantankerous remark prompted the first trail ride. In 1952, Reese Lockett -- asked if he would serve again as arena director said, “I’ll never make another trip where I can’t ride home on my horse.” A man who worked in advertising said if he would arrive at the rodeo on horseback it would be great publicity for the show.
  39. With that aim, four men -- Lockett, Emil Marks, Pat Flaherty and John Warnasch -- traveled on horseback in 1952 from Brenham, Texas, to Houston to raise awareness of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Today, more than 3,000 trail riders partake in the Rodeo’s signature tradition each year. There are now 11 trail rides that cross Texas toward their destination, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
  40. The trail riders’ appearance in Houston signals the start of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo as they merge via many routes into Memorial Park and proudly ride Saturday morning in the Downtown Rodeo Parade.
  41. Approximately 1,300 miles are covered by all trail rides.
  42. The longest trail ride distance is 239 miles: Mission Trail Ride begins in San Antonio, Texas.
  43. The shortest trail ride distance is 71.5 miles. The Valley Lodge Trail Ride begins in Brookshire, Texas.
  44. Many of the horses on the ride are rescued animals. The Texas Independence Trail Ride has such animals, as well as three century-old wagons.
  45. Many of the trail rides include family members and generations of all ages.
  46. Some trail rides distribute scholarships to area students and visit schools to share the history of the show and trail rides.
  47. All trail rides are led by trail bosses, who are responsible for ensuring safety. The trail boss is the manager of the entourage and its activities, and has the ultimate responsibility for: The safety of not only the riders, animals and equipment on the ride, but also of the public who watch and visit. Organization of the structure of the trail ride group, with its officers and members. Coordination of the route, including permission to use roads and rest stops, and securing permits and police assistance in each jurisdiction passed. Teams of scouts on the ride maintain traffic control and serve as flagmen on horseback. The team of scouts meets with the Trail Boss each night to go over the next day’s route. Coordination with the wagon boss, who oversees the wagons, equipment and people who make up the ride. Each trail ride has a number of wagons, and each wagon is the nucleus for its own group of members. Each wagon is usually responsible for most of the food preparation for its members. The water truck – with all the animals and the volume of water they require, the water truck is an important item. The campsite – the trail boss sometimes has to make alternate arrangements during the ride if weather makes the condition of the preferred campsite unusable for the group. The safety of the public viewing the Downtown Rodeo Parade, and the horses and wagons that pass near them. The trail boss maintains high visibility during the ride, riding in front and leading the riders along the route, and during the Downtown Rodeo Parade.
  48. These are the trail rides: Mission, Northeastern, Prairie View, Salt Grass, Sam Houston, Southwest, Southwestern Trail Riders of Houston, Texas Cattlemen’s, Texas Independence, The Spanish, Valley Lodge. See where the trail rides go here.
  49. The horticulture contest is open to Texas residents between the ages of 8 and 18 and does not require participants to be members of a Texas 4-H Club or FFA Chapter. Entrants can show talents in one or several of the competitions categories including floral design, plant life, landscaping and photography. Winners of each category are eligible to receive cash prizes and a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo official belt buckle.
  50. The rodeo art contest is high-caliber art. See the gallery here. Invitations to participate in the School Art Program are extended on an annual basis at the sole discretion of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Participation is limited to schools in approved public independent school districts and approved private schools. Each summer, the School Art Committee evaluates each returning school district and private school on its support of the program and evaluates new applicants based on the application criteria and the program’s space availability for the coming year.
  51. The quilt contest has two divisions: machine and hand quilting and each are broken down by applique, piecework, pictorial or a theme quilt, wall hanging and mixed technique.
  52. The writing contest features children writing on a prompt. Here are some of their entries from recent years.
  53. RodeoHouston is the largest livestock show in the world.
  54. In its last economic survey in 2019, the total economic impact of the rodeo is $277 million for the city of Houston. Annual festivities reportedly created 3,694 jobs for the city.
  55. In the Rodeo’s 40th year, Ronnie and Donnie Galyon, Siamese twins, were put on display. Joined at the waist, the brothers sat in a trailer for viewing with their dogs, household objects, and photo of them as children.
  56. The Houston Rodeo does not have a beauty pageant.
  57. By 1939, Houston ranked 7th nationally as a cattle market.
  58. In 1957, the show presented its first scholarship in the amount of $2,000.
  59. George Strait first performed in 1983 -- quite by chance. When country music star Eddie Rabbitt was unable to perform due to an illness, RodeoHouston organizers scrambled to fill the gap in their lineup. Several names were tossed around. Among them, country music newcomer George Strait. During his impromptu rodeo debut, Strait stole the show when he rode around the Astrodome arena on a horse, shaking hands with the audience and waving his hat. Needless to say, he quickly cemented himself as a crowd favorite and was asked back to the rodeo year after year.
  60. George Strait, the King of Country has entertained more than 1.5 million RodeoHouston fans. For his contributions to the show, Rogers was inducted into RodeoHouston’s Star Trail of Fame in 1996. Strait will make his 31st appearance at RodeoHouston on March 20, 2022.
  61. The Star Trail of Fame is a distinction that pays tribute to stars that have made an impact on the show. Currently, nine stars are honored with a gold plaque to commemorate their many years of first-class, musical entertainment: Gene Autry, Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, Elvis Presley, Charley Pride, Reba McEntire, Roy Rogers, George Strait, and Selena.
  62. The rotating stage was introduced in 1986.
  63. Agventure makes its debut in 1997.
  64. The show moved into NRG Stadium and NRG Center in 2003.
  65. Wine Show was introduced in 2004.
  66. Star Stage -- the current stage for musical performances -- was introduced in 2018.
  67. Greased pig races were staged during the early days of the show in the late 1930s.
  68. In the 1938 show, purses for the rodeo ranged from $640.50 to $1,250. Today, the purse for the Houston Rodeo is comprised of two different competitions: the Super Series and the Super Shootout: North America’s Champions, presented by Crown Royal. Both competitions total a $2.17 million payout, with more than 360 contestants, and an average of 1.37 million fans. Super Series purse = $1,881,500 Super Shootout purse = $262,500 Total Purse = $2.14 million
  69. The 1938 show set the stage for the rodeo that exists today with a removable, portable floor that was converted into a stage for a vaudeville-style floor show, dance shows and guitar and fiddle musical performances that harkened back to the Old West. The show also had a midway with a fun house and a haunted castle and rides.
  70. When Gene Autry came to the rodeo in 1942, he sponsored an essay contest called “Why I am Proud to be an American.” The winner met the star singer in person.
  71. During the war years, free seed packets were distributed so farmers could start their own victory gardens.
  72. It takes about 600 dump-truck loads of dirt for NRG Arena and the service level at NRG Stadium. The rodeo said the dirt is stored at an off-site property, and they reuse it every year. The rodeo’s dirt has no guidelines, but is unique due to requirements for the rodeo stage.
  73. In 2019 -- the last full rodeo as of this writing -- more than 250,000 individual items of rodeo and entertainer merchandise went home with fans, including 30,000 caps and T-shirts, 12,000 mugs and tumblers, and 10,000 lapel pins.
  74. More than 2.5 million rides were taken at the carnival (in 2019, the last full rodeo as of this writing).
  75. The most popular rides were La Grande XL, Skyride, Ice Jets and Crazy Coaster (in 2019, the last full rodeo as of this writing).
  76. More than 600,000 prizes were won at the games. The most popular prizes were basketballs, llamas and alpacas (in 2019, the last full rodeo as of this writing).
  77. Approximately 376,000 Oreos were battered, fried and dusted with powdered sugar (in 2019, the last full rodeo as of this writing).
  78. One orchard of apples was used for candy and caramel apples (in 2019, the last full rodeo as of this writing).
  79. Approximately 6,000 pounds of kettle corn were enjoyed by rodeo guests (in 2019, the last full rodeo as of this writing).
  80. More than 100,000 little farmers visited Fun on the Farm (in 2019, the last full rodeo as of this writing).
  81. More than 18,000 people rode camels (in 2019, the last full rodeo as of this writing).
  82. Approximately 61,000 people participated in a scheduled school tour or field trip (in 2019, the last full rodeo as of this writing).
  83. Nearly 18,000 little cowboys and cowgirls rode the pony rides (in 2019, the last full rodeo as of this writing).
  84. More than 950 chicks hatched in the Poultry Exhibit (in 2019, the last full rodeo as of this writing).
  85. At the Birthing Center, 53 piglets, 25 lambs and 20 calves were born (in 2019, the last full rodeo as of this writing).
  86. The Go Texan Committee was formed in 1954 and handles the show’s publicity, urging people to wear western clothing and take part in social events.
  87. The first female director of the show was Wilhelmina Beane in 1938.
  88. A cowboy is required to ride eight seconds in the bull riding competition.
  89. The first rodeo entertainer to perform for one million total rodeo fans was Charley Pride.
  90. The first president of the Houston Fat Stock Show and Livestock Exposition was James W. Sartwelle who served from 1932 until 1948.

Information for this article comes from the Houston Rodeo website, “Hoofbeats, Heartbeats and Heroes: The 65-year-old Legacy of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo” and “Going Texan: The Days of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo” by Geoff Winningham.

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About the Author:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.