The History of IFA

By Rob Stott

The World's Most Important Tech Show

During his portion of the opening keynote at IFA 2017, Messe Berlin CEO Christian Göke explained how he frequently fields questions around what exactly IFA is. His response: "IFA is all about accelerating growth and innovation, and that’s why IFA has become more and more attractive for trade visitors from around the world. IFA is now the most important trade show for the Consumer and Home Electronics industry."

IFA is a trade show at heart. This year, organizers said that more than 1,800 brands covered 159,000 square meters (roughly 1.71 million square feet), which represented a sold out show. Further, IFA, now in its 95th year, attracted more than 5,700 international journalists alongside 145,000 trade visitors, and roughly 90,000 public attendees.

Beyond the record-setting attendance numbers and actual size of IFA, it’s important to understand what actually happens at the show. First and foremost, IFA is a buying show. Actual business gets done when retailers and distributors walk onto the show floor, and IFA has the receipts—4.5 billion euros worth—to prove it. And IFA's rich history is one packed with countless product launches and introductions of the latest innovations in consumer electronics.

"For nearly 100 years, innovation has been at the heart of this trade show, which has grown all the time," Göke said. "No other event brings together so many retailers, buyers, trade visitors and members of the media at such an ideal time of year."

Because of the show's importance in the grand scheme of the consumer tech and home appliance industry, Dealerscope wanted to showcase that history. So let's run through IFA's roots, which date all the way back to 1924, and explore where the show has come from and some of the significant milestones that were achieved along the way.

December 4, 1924

1st Große Deutsche Funkausstellung

It all began on 4 December 1924 with the "Grosse Deutsche Funk-Ausstellung" (German Radio Show) organized by Verband der Radioindustrie and Gemeinnützige Berliner Messe-und Ausstellungs-GmbH. The show attracted 242 exhibitors and an attendance of 180,000 to a display area that measured 7,000 sq. meters. Visitors were wowed by the detectors and the first valve radio receivers on show. It was the first of a series of annual events, all known as the "Grosse Deutsche Funkausstellung,” which concentrated mainly on radio and television presentations.

September 1926

3rd Große Deutsche Funk-Ausstellung

Hall 4 saw 250 exhibitors attend year three of the event. This year, the show welcomed organizer Verband der Funkindustrie into the fold. A special ceremony was also held on the first day of the show this year for the inauguration of the Radio Tower (pictured below) on the Messe Berlin campus.


The First Chapter

Berlin remained the venue for the fair until the outbreak of World War Two. The event was organized by the industry association Verband der Radio-Industrie and, until 1933, by Verband der Funkindustrie. Additionally, in 1930 Reichsverband des Deutschen Sprechmaschinen- und Schallplatten-Handels was involved in the show. Between 1933 and 1939 the "Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda" assumed responsibility for the fair, and the first chapter in its history came to an end when the event was held for the 16th time in 1939.

Albert Einstein opened the 1930 IFA event.

1950 - 1967

Funkausstellung Goes on Its Travels

The Funkausstellung did not have a permanent home in the years following the end of the war, moving around to Düsseldorf in 1950, 1953 and 1955, and on the Frankfurt/Main exhibition grounds in 1957 and 1959. It was during this time that the show also moved to an every-other-year format.

In 1961 and 1963 several hundred thousand visitors came to admire the exhibits being shown by the German industry in Berlin. During these years very high frequency (VHF) broadcasting was introduced (1950) and soon achieved widespread use, followed by transistorised equipment (1955), portable televisions (1957) and wireless remote control (1959). In 1963 the audio compact cassette was introduced in Berlin. During the same year listeners had the first opportunity to enjoy stereo radio broadcasting.

The 24th Funkausstellung was held in 1965 in Stuttgart, and in 1967 the fair returned to Berlin. An unforgettable moment came when Willy Brandt pressed the button to launch color television broadcasting in Germany on 25 August 1967.

The show took place twice more in different locations: Stuttgart in 1969 and Düsseldorf in 1970.

August 1971

28th Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin

The Funkausstellung, which had by now acquired an international dimension, returned permanently to Berlin in 1971. In the first year back at its original venue it featured 26 exhibitors and 93 additionally represented companies from abroad from Denmark and Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, the former USSR, and the USA.

Messe Berlin campus

August 1973

Changing Tides

During the post-war period, until 1973, the "Radio and Television” part of the industry association ZVEI, initially assumed responsibility for this trade show, followed by the "Radio and Television Trade Division” of the ZVEI. Since 1973 it has been organized by another industry organization, Gesellschaft für Unterhaltungs- und Kommunikationselektronik (gfu).

Queues of visitors at the Entrance North.

1973 - 2005

Major Developments at IFA

The Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin has featured the major developments in the world of consumer electronics: quadrophonic sound (1973), the ARI road traffic broadcasting service (1975), teletex systems such as Bildschirmtext (1977), the Compact Disc (1979), TV stereo sound (1981), the Video Programming System (1985), the Radio Data System (1987), 16:9-wide screen television, Digital Satellite Radio (both in 1989), the Digital Compact Cassette, Mini Disc and MP3 (both in 1991), Laser TV (1993), digital television (DVB), digital radio (DAB), plasma screens (all in 1995), the Digital Versatile Disc (1997), MP3 players and cellphones with internet capability (1999), as well as the introduction of digital television via antenna (2003), and Flat Panel HDTV television (2005).

Nokia 1011 debuts at IFA 1993

IFA 1995 entered the history books as the first truly multimedia trade show. During subsequent years the Funkaustellung has confirmed its pre-eminent role, expanding its position as the leading consumer electronics trade show, and one which also meets the needs of telecommunications and information technology. The advances made in the digitalisation of media and technology have played a vital part in this process, encouraging an increasing integration of the various technologies and equipment used in consumer, information and communication electronics.

Acer racing game at IFA 1995

In 2003, IFA broke the 1,000 exhibitor barrier, hosting 1,007 exhibitors from 37 different countries. The show has never looked back and has experienced growth in nearly every year since.

August 2006

Annual IFA Returns

Since October 2005 Berlin has been able to look forward annually to IFA as one of the world’s leading trade shows. The dynamic development of the consumer electronics market and the outstanding results achieved at IFA 2005 have encouraged the organizers of IFA, Gesellschaft für Unterhaltungs- und Kommunikationselektronik (gfu) and Messe Berlin, to continue to develop the IFA concept on an annual basis.

Messe Berlin South Entrance

IFA 2006 was the first to be held as the show returned to an annual event, and HDTV was again one of the main topics. Following its launch in 2005, HDTV was being presented as a ready-to-market media service with a rapidly expanding range of programs. Moreover, with Blu-ray discs and HD-DVD, a new generation of optical media became available, bringing high-definition quality into consumer's homes.

August 2008

Home Appliances Debut at IFA

For the first time, the combination of consumer electronics and home appliances creates an unprecedented diversity at IFA, making this the most attractive platform for international dealers, buyers, consumers, and the industry.

Home appliances at IFA

Each year since, the home appliances section of IFA has grown exponentially, now occupying several halls of the Messe Berlin campus with hundreds of home appliance manufacturers showing off their latest innovations each year.

August 2010

50th Edition of IFA

The 50th edition of IFA was classified as a leap into a new era. The signs of success were good: double-digit growth in exhibit space occupied to around 134,400 square meters and 1423 exhibitors—both of which were new records for the show. Similarly, many visitors came to the 50th IFA: 235,000 visitors, including 125,000 trade visitors, which made IFA again the world's largest and most important show for consumer electronics and home appliances. The order volume of trade is with 3.5 billion Euros ($4.34 billion USD).

Credit: TechCrunch

Education was also at a premium at this important IFA event. Keynotes this year were delivered by Google, Bosch Siemens, IBM, ESPN, and Constantin. The new exhibition areas "IFA iZone" and "IFA eLibrary" were very successful from the start. Thus, IFA has integrated the latest trends from the world of i-products and e-media into the show's success.

August 2017

IFA NEXT Debuts, Global Markets Expands

The debut of IFA NEXT was a hit among visitors to the show. The area, featured prominently in Hall 26 on the Messe Berlin campus, included an “innovation engine” area in the center of the hall where educational content and high-level, topic-driven discussions were held throughout the show. Surrounding the center area were 130 booths with exhibitors showcasing tech from some of the emerging categories, including robotics, VR and AR, and more. And they included everything from startups, to research labs, to some of the leading companies like Amazon Alexa, Microsoft, and more.

IFA NEXT Innovation Engine

IFA Global Markets, which brought together OEMs and ODMs at the Station Berlin, is described by IFA as “Europe’s largest sourcing and supply chain event for the consumer electronics and home appliances industry.” The space supported 650 global exhibitors and gave them the opportunity to do real, meaningful business with vendor partners.

IFA Global Markets at STATION Berlin

Discover What's Next

IFA is the main meeting place for key retailers, buyers, and experts from the industry and the media. IFA 2018 will take place August 31 through September 5 in Berlin. For more information, visit the IFA website.

  • Peter Weber

    Great overview! I attended most of the shows since the late 60ies and saw the continuous development mirroring the changes of the industry. Always serving manufacturers and buyers at its best!