Fifty years ago, Barbie was introduced, Russia sent Sputnik I into space, and we just started listening to Rock and Roll on our radios.
After the 1954 Fall Meet sponsored by the Pottstown Region in Hershey, Jim Ladd found there was enough interest among old car owners in the Hershey area to form an AACA Hershey Region. On February 8, 1955 , Jim Ladd held an organizational meeting at his home and the twenty men and women who attended agreed to petition AACA to become a region. The charter was granted and the new Hershey Region was named host for the AACA Fall Meet held October 8 – 9 in the Hershey Stadium. About 400 cars were entered for judging on Saturday. However, rain soaked the field and scared off about 100 of those registered. Seven vendors set up an array of parts for sale outside the stadium, thus the flea market was born. Volunteers from the new region registered the cars, arranged for judging, scheduled an early Sunday morning breakfast run followed by afternoon activities.
For the rest of the decade, more of the activities that are still part of the Hershey Fall Meet were instituted. In 1956 the first ladies luncheon was arranged at the Community Inn in Hershey. The few Parts Peddlers, as they were called then, were invited inside the Stadium in 1958 and, if sales warranted it, were asked for a few dollars. The Region purchased the 1914 Ford “Chuck Wagon” in 1958 for $500.00 from Ben and Ruth Shonk on a pay-as-you-can basis. This fine vehicle has served the Hershey Region well over the years and is still used to dispense cider. Shuttle buses were first provided in 1959.
During the 60’s, John F. Kennedy was elected, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and Ford introduced the Mustang. Bell bottoms and mini skirts were the style.
1960 was the Silver Jubilee Meet in celebration of AACA’s 25th Anniversary. With 891 vehicles registered, this was proclaimed the largest gathering of old cars held anywhere in the world. This year, the flea market vendors outgrew their space in the Stadium and moved to the road between the stadium and the car field.
In 1961, the special feature of the meet was the kick-off of the 16th Annual Revival Glidden Tour. Because of the tour, the car registration jumped to 924 which could not be accommodated inside the stadium. They were moved to an adjacent field for judging. By now, the road between the stadium and the field was a carnival of flea market vendors, which spilled over onto the field alongside the road.
At the ten-year mark, 1965, the Hershey Region hosted about 35,000 visitors. Almost 1,100 cars were registered and 336 vendors were in the flea market. Everything kept growing in the next five years. In 1967, a Friday night welcoming party was held at the new Hershey Motor Lodge. A record of 1,186 cars were judged in 1968 and it seems that record held for a long time.
1970s brought us the pet rock, the Watergate Break-in and the fall of Saigon . Nixon resigned and Ford pardoned him. The Apple computer was developed and Elvis died. Remember gas rationing in 1979?
The Hershey Fall meet, during the 70s, hosted more and more vendors and visitors while show car registration remained at about 1,000. In 1971 2,904 flea market spaces were set up. In 1972, the year of the big flood, things didn’t slow down much. People were arriving in their campers and flying planes into the Hershey Airport (which is now the White Field). The Red Field was added in 1974 and this was the first year for bus tours. The next few years there was rain which, at times, created ankle-deep mud but bad weather didn’t deter the crowds. The first amateur night for the flea market vendors was initiated in 1978. Even with the Three-Mile Island disaster in 1979, 900 cars were registered for the show and over 5,300 spaces in the flea market were filled.
This was the decade of the Cabbage Patch dolls, Dallas on TV, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In 1981, the Hershey show grew to cover 80 acres. The flea market was divided into Red and Blue fields. An all-time high of 463 judges were required to go over 1,250 cars. Sunday games were resumed after a 5-year hiatus.
Show car and vendor numbers were growing so large, registration was becoming unmanageable. During 1981-82, two Hershey members established a standard operating procedure to standardize all the steps required in setting up the meet. In 1984 the Chocolate Field was opened. By 1985, AACA celebrated their 50th anniversary while Hershey Region celebrated their 25th. An all-time high of over 2100 show cars were registered that year and the Hershey Meet was considered the largest antique automobile meet in America and perhaps in the world.
The Region stepped into the computer age in 1987. In 1988 the ladies enjoyed their luncheon in a newly renovated Hotel Hershey. The Green field was added in 1989, expanding the flea market by 4,000 spaces. By now, the Car Corral was growing by leaps and bounds. The 80’s closed with 2,009 cars being judged and 10,286 flea market spaces.
Desert Storm was in the news; the Cold War officially ended in 1992; O. J. Simpson was on trial in 1994 and Dolly was cloned in 1997.
In 1990, the Meet opened between two hurricanes moving up the coast. It took over 600 tons of crushed stone to fight the mud. By now, Hershey was truly an international event with visitors from Australia , Denmark , France , Great Britain , Ireland , Italy , Japan , Mexico , Portugal , New Zealand , Spain , Sweden and Switzerland .
Rain was a factor in the first three years of the 90s, but the flea market vendors still came in droves. In 1996, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to dedicate the land along Route 39 for a museum and for the Hershey Region Headquarters. In honor of the 100th anniversary of the automobile in America , a car representing each year from 1904 to 1971 was displayed in the Stadium. 1996 was also the first year for the young peoples’ event where their crafts, hobbies or talents were judged.
Some statistics were compiled in 1997: A total of 1,722 show cars, judged by 600 judges were displayed on 15 acres; the 10,425 vendors took up four flea market fields covering 134 acres; and the car corral covered 15 acres. Camper parking took up another 15 acres, 10 acres for show car trailer parking and 107 acres for public parking. The Hershey Meet took over a total of 296 acres.
Like everyone else, Hershey Region made it into the new millennium without any Y2K problems. Giant Center construction caused some problems for the field chairmen and crew who laid out the fields. The car corral was moved to the Hershey Outlet Mall parking lot in 2002 then over to the Giant Center parking lot in 2003. Because of space restrictions, the registration numbers have remained pretty steady for the last few years.
Hershey Region is in the computer age now, and putting the Meet together has come a long way from the living room get-togethers of the late 1950s. However, the procedures those early members initiated just grew and became more refined as the Region and the Meet grew. Seventy-five different committees and over 750 volunteers now do the job of those first few men and women. Hosting the Eastern Division Fall Meet for the last fifty years definitely has been a labor of love and Hershey Region hopes to continue to provide the finest antique automobile meet we can for another fifty years.
In 2020, due the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fall Meet was cancelled. In 2022, the meet was moved to begin on Tuesday and end on Friday.