A rendering of New York’s first annual dog show, held in 1877.
The First Annual New York Bench Show of Dogs, forerunner to what is now known as the Westminster Dog Show, was held in 1877 at the Hippodrome, at Gilmore’s Garden (a predecessor to Madison Square Garden, where the evening sessions are still performed). Billed as “a fashionable new amusement” in The New York Times, the show drew a roster of 1,201 dogs, including two staghounds listed as having belonged to the late General George Custer, as well as two deerhounds bred by Queen Victoria herself.
The show was organized by the new Westminster Kennel Club, “an organization of gentlemen interested in the improvement of the strains of hunting dogs,” who named their group after the old Westminster Hotel, on Irving Place and 16th Street, which attracted the likes of Charles Dickens and William Dean Howells and whose bar these gentlemen would frequent. The first show was such a hit that it was extended to four days from its originally scheduled three. The estimated gate tally for the first day was as high as 8,000.
On the second day, 20,000 spectators attended. It was when 20,000 arrived again for the third day that the Westminster club decided to add a fourth. A share of the proceeds from the first show was given to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to establish a home for stray and disabled dogs, and contributions to that organization have continued every year since. Still run under the auspices of the Westminster Kennel Club, the show will present its 138th annual event February 10–11.