Royal Heritage: American Royal prepares for a move |

Royal Heritage: American Royal prepares for a move

The American Royal began as a Hereford national show beneath a circus tent. It has now grown into a major livestock show and horse show that includes multiple events and a significant scholarship program. Photo courtesy American Royal.

The American Royal will be making its move to Wyandotte County, Kansas, after being rooted in Kansas City, Missouri since 1899. What originally began as the National Hereford Show has evolved into a multifaceted event featuring livestock shows, a rodeo, The World Series of Barbecue, educational events, scholarship opportunities, a junior college, senior college, and 4-H and FFA livestock judging contest, and more. 

Nestled in the West Bottoms of Kansas City, visitors and exhibitors will no longer see Kemper Arena and the Missouri River on their way to compete or visit but will be welcomed to Wyandotte Count, Kansas, where the hope is that the partnership, according to Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey, will be more than a “new livestock show facility, but about developing a committed partnership to drive agriculture forward.” 

The original event included male-only Hereford exhibitors exhibiting cattle beneath a circus tent near the Kansas City Stockyards, an ideal gathering place for producers at the time. The show was the first time exhibitors gathered to show and sell purebred cattle and their cattle brought an average price of $334. According to a video featuring Kristie Larson, Director of Education, American Royal Association, the show’s attendance steadily grew from an estimated 55,000 and it earned its moniker when C.F. Curtiss, dean of agriculture, Iowa State College of Agriculture, compared it to the British Royal Agricultural Fair.  

Horse shows were added to the Royal in 1905. Organizers invited popular Missouri trainer Tom Bass to organize a show to help raise money to send the Kansas City Fire Chief out of the country to learn more about fire department utilization of horses. Since Bass’ first foray into Kansas City to kick off the first show, the show has grown to include Quarter Horse shows, hunter/jumper shows, youth and open horse shows, cutting horse shows, Arabian horse shows, and the United Professional Horseman’s Association (UPHA) National Championship. In addition to the horse events that still thrive at the American Royal, the event has included a parade for the past 90 years, as well as a popular rodeo. 

In 1969, the Kansas City Royals Major League Baseball team, then an expansion team, hosted a contest to name the team. According to USA Today, the fan who submitted the winning name in a contest, Sanford Porte, wrote that the team’s namesake should honor “Missouri’s billion-dollar livestock income, Kansas City’s position as the nation’s leading stocker and feeder market and the nationally known American Royal parade and pageant.” 

In Kansas City style, the American Royal also hosts the largest barbecue event in the world, The World Series of Barbecue. The contest hosted over 600 teams from the United States and abroad to compete for the crown. 

One of the educational pieces of the American Royal under Larson’s supervision is the museum. Founded in 1992, the museum pays homage to the event’s history and plays a role in educating visitors about the history of the event and the history of the stockyards that were so instrumental to the area and the event. 

To this end, educational experiences and agricultural competitive learning are two of the reasons the American Royal Board said they’re optimistic about the move to Kansas. In a news release by the Association, Kansas is touted as the ideal regional home to grow into. 

“The American Royal currently hosts more than 50 events annually, attracting nearly 270,000 attendees and has an economic impact of more than $60 million annually. Last year we awarded $1.4 million in scholarships and support to our youth education programs,” said Angie Stanland, chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Royal. “Our priorities in the due diligence process were to find a regional home that would allow us to fulfill our mission, accommodate our growing events and allow for future growth. We have found the ideal location to do just that.” 

The move to Kansas will not be immediate. According to the Wyandotte Daily’s interview with the Unified Government Commission’s director of economic development, Jon Stephens, there is an 18-month period to secure financing and complete the development plan. Construction will begin within six months of the bond closing. The construction will be completed within two years of the bond closing. 

Brigham Stewart, a cattleman from Washington, Kansas, has a long-standing relationship with the American Royal. After a successful youth career exhibiting cattle, Stewart competed in livestock judging at the junior and senior college level and has returned to the American Royal as a breeder and a judge. 

The Stewart family, known best for their seedstock operation, Midcontinent Farms, has long supported the American Royal through, among other things, the donation of the stock hooks awarded to some winning exhibitors. The family, Stewart said, is optimistic about the move to what he calls a more family- and agriculture-friendly area. 

“It needed a facelift,” Stewart said. “Not that it was stagnant, but it is booming once again. Numbers were up across all species this year. It’s more appealing to exhibitors and now with new facilities, they can make it as popular as it once was.” 

The new facility is also a boon to other livestock shows in the state and region. Stewart anticipates that other livestock shows will be attracted to the facility and it can play host to spring livestock shows, regional shows, or even national shows. This is certainly attractive, Stewart said, to the large number of livestock exhibitors near the area who would benefit. 

Stewart said the current venue is full of history and is rich with the history of livestock shows and the Kansas City Stockyards. However, the promise of growth and potential in a new facility leaves him hopeful and excited. 

Much of the attraction of the historic show remains part of the American Royal no matter the zip code. Exhibitors who show nationally typically enter the American Royal, he said, with the hope of winning Kansas City, the North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE) in Louisville, Kentucky, and the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado. With new weigh back requirements, he expects fresher cattle to dominate the show that was once typically won by heavier steers targeted for the show. A weigh back requirement means that contestants will initially weigh cattle to determine class placement. Once the judge selects potential winners, the cattle will be reweighed and must weigh in within a certain percentage above or below the original weight. Stewart said this is attractive to exhibitors, makes the show more competitive, and will allow a fresher, better steer to win the banner. 

The American Royal also plays host to multiple livestock judging contests for collegiate, 4-H and FFA contestants. Deven King, an agricultural journalist and cattle woman from Miles, Iowa, was a collegiate livestock judge for Black Hawk East and then Kansas State University.  

“Moving it to Kansas will make us more likely to exhibit every year,” she said. Her family operation is based in Iowa and said she’s encouraged by the improved experiences brought through an updated facility that allows for more ideal stalling. 

King has spent several years at the event as a breeder, watching youth exhibitors show cattle purchased from her family operation. Among her most memorable experiences, though, are the years she participated as a collegiate livestock judging contestant. 

King still vividly recalls one particularly challenging contest that began with what she said was an impossible steer class. Once the oral reasons portion of the contest rolled around, King said things went from frustrating to panicked as she delivered the incorrect set of reasons to an official and had to rely on her instinct and memory to deliver the correct set, unprepared. 

The move west from Missouri to Kansas, King said, will give the new facility more of a cattlemen’s feel and allow for the event to educate more individuals about agriculture in a more agricultural area. 

“If they can master that, the Royal is going to have a really good thing going for them,” she said.