Did you know that the first dog show produced by the Westminster Kennel Club was in 1877? Or that Westminster is the oldest, continuous sporting event in America, with the exception of the Kentucky Derby?
Over one hundred twenty years ago, the Westminster Kennel Club was initiated by a group of gentlemen who enjoyed sporting dogs, primarily Pointers and Setters. The group's frequent meeting place was held at the Westminster Hotel in New York City. The Westminster Kennel Club was established with a view to increase an interest in dogs, and thus improve the breeds, and to hold an Annual Dog Show in the City of New York.
In 1876, noting the success of dog shows held in England and one in Philadelphia, it was decided to present a dog show in New York City. Adopting the name of the hotel in which they met as the name of the dog show, this group of sportsmen presented the "First Annual New York Bench Show of Dogs." Produced by the Westminster Kennel Club, the show was held in Gilmore's Gardens, Madison Avenue and 26th Street, on May 8th through the 10th, 1877. This first dog show was so successful with exhibitors and the public that it was extended to include another day, May 11th. With a few exceptions in the early years, the Westminster Dog Show continues to be held at Madison Square Garden. In 1888, the Club moved its date from May to February, where it has remained ever since...
Since the first show in 1877 through 1920, Westminster continued as a four-day show. Then in 1921 through 1940, the show was condensed into a three day show. Finally, in present day, Westminster continues to present a two-day show. Westminster is the oldest, continuous sporting event in America, with the exception of the Kentucky Derby. It has been held each year despite power shortages, hazardous snow storms, national depressions, and World Wars. The first great Pointer which the Club owned was named "Sensation." He was said to have the best head of any Pointer in the world. Through the years, the Club has done well to preserve his memory by adopting his picture as the club logo. As of 1992, the Show is limited to dogs who have earned their AKC champion of record title. Westminster has entries from every state in the Untied States and many from Canada and other countries as well. Approximately a quarter of a million dogs have been in competition at Westminster's one hundred twenty-two shows.
The Club's first Best in Show award was made in 1907 to a Smooth Fox Terrier, Ch. Warren Remedy. She also won the top award in 1908 and 1909, making her the only dog to have won three Best in Shows at Westminster. To date, seven dogs in all have taken more than one Best in Show, the lastest being Dr. Milton E. Prickett's English Springer Spaniel, Ch. Chinoe's Adamant James in 1971 and 1972. A total of five owners have won Best in Show at Westminster with different dogs: Stanley J. Halle's Halleston Kennels in 1926, 1934 and 1937; Mrs. Geraldine R. Dodge's Giralda Farms in 1932 and 1939; Mrs. John G. Winant in 1942 and 1950; Mr. Edward B. Jenner in 1973 and 1990; and Canadian Sportswoman Mrs. Anne E. Snelling in 1979 and 1982.
Even though Westminster is now a two-day Show, the planning for each Show starts almost two years in advance when the Show Committee begins the selection of the judging panel of approximately forty judges.
The dog that reaches the top at Westminster will have been passed upon by three different judges - the judge of the breed, the judge of the group, and the Best in Show judge.
Several days before the Show, the benching is set up in the Garden rotunda area with signs to show where the various breeds are located. Dogs coming from distant cities may arrive two or three days before the Show opens and the facilities are made available for them.
The night before the Show begins, there is usually a hockey game in the main arena of the Garden. The instant the game ends and the ice is melted, crews go to work setting up the Show rings.
On Monday morning, the Show opens for two days of continuous breed judging and Group judging in the evenings. By Tuesday evening, only seven dogs remain in the competition from the more than 2,500 dogs that opened the two-day Show. Finally, one dog will stand alone in the center of the Garden arena: Best in Show at Westminster.