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Historical Highlights

The Westminster Kennel Club Legacy

Here are the dogs, the people and the stories that have shaped the legacy and tradition of the Westminster Kennel Club and its famous annual all-breed dog show.

1876 (or earlier) – A group of sporting gentlemen meets regularly in the bar of a Manhattan hotel to trade stories about their shooting accomplishments and the talents of their dogs. Eventually, they decide to form a club and name it after their meeting place: The Westminster Hotel. Early on, the club – officially named the Westminster Breeding Association – owns a kennel and raises Pointers for hunting and field trials.

1876 – The Westminster Breeding Association helps stage a dog show in Philadelphia in celebration of America’s centennial. The show is such a success that the members decide to hold their own dog show to allow them to compare their dogs in a setting away from the field. The members change the name of their organization to the Westminster Kennel Club and incorporate under that name in 1877.

1877 – The First Annual New York Bench Show of Dogs, given under the auspices of the Westminster Kennel Club, is held in the Hippodrome at Gilmore’s Garden (the forerunner to Madison Square Garden) in New York City, drawing an entry of 1,201 dogs.

The show is such a hit that it is extended to four days to accommodate the overwhelming public interest. The gate for the first day of the show is estimated as high as 8,000. On the second day, 20,000 spectators attended, a number matched on the third day and providing the impetus to add a fourth day.

The proceeds from that fourth day were donated to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to open a home for stray and disabled dogs.

Among the entries listed in the first show: two Staghounds from the late General George Custer’s pack, and two Deerhounds that had been bred by the Queen of England.

1884 – Members of The Westminster Kennel Club and the Kennel Club of Philadelphia meet to establish a national governing body for dog registrations and dog shows: The American Kennel Club.

1888 – With her assignment of 117 St. Bernards at Westminster, Anna Whitney becomes the first woman to judge a dog show in America. She judges every year for the next seven years, but it would be 1901 before another woman judges any dog show in the U.S.

1893 – Philanthropist J. P. Morgan makes the first of his many appearances at Westminster with his Collies.

1894 – Famous American journalist Nelly Bly enters her Maltese at Westminster, some four years after she made a record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes, racing the record of Phineas Fogg in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.

1905 – With 1,752 dogs, Westminster becomes the largest dog show ever, surpassing the last show held at the Crystal Palace in London.

1907 – The award of Best In Show is given for the first time at Westminster. This year, and for the next two years as well, it goes to a Smooth Fox Terrier bitch named Ch. Warren Remedy. She remains the only dog ever to win three Bests In Show. A panel of 10 judges makes the decision, although their names were not recorded. (In fact, the names making up the panel of Best In Show judges were not recorded until 1912).

1908 – The number of dogs entered reaches 2,000 for the first time.

1909 – Ch. Warren Remedy, a Smooth Fox Terrier, is awarded Best In Show for the third consecutive year, a feat not duplicated since at Westminster.

1917 – A special hero of World War I, a German Shepherd named Filax of Lewanno which had brought 54 wounded soldiers to safety, was exhibited at Westminster.

1918 – The profits of this show were donated to the American Red Cross in support of the war effort.

1923 – No Best In Show prize is awarded because of ongoing changes in American Kennel Club rules.

1924 – Westminster becomes the first club to conduct Best In Show judging in accordance with the new rules and format installed by the AKC. Five Group winners (Sporting, Working, Terrier, Toy, and Non-Sporting) compete for the final award of Best In Show.

1926 – Madison Square Garden III opens on 8th Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. Westminster moves its show there, where it will remain until the facility closes in 1968.

1928 – Mrs. Reginald F. Mayhew of Forest Hills, NY, becomes the first woman to have a voice in deciding Best In Show, as one of a panel of five judges making the decision.

1933 – Mrs. M. Hartley (Geraldine Rockefeller) Dodge judges Best In Show, becoming the first woman to officiate as the sole judge of this award. She is soon legendary in the dog show world, as the force behind the famed Morris & Essex Kennel Club and the benefactor of St. Hubert Giralda Animal Shelter in New Jersey.

1933 – A German Shepherd belonging to New York Yankee great, Lou Gehrig, is among this year’s entries. “Afra of Cosalta” takes second in the Open Bitch class; Gehrig goes on to some success on the baseball field instead, finishing with a .340 lifetime batting average as one of the most beloved Yankees of all time.

1934 – The Children’s Handling Grand Challenge Trophy is offered for the first time at Westminster. Later to be known as Junior Handling, this competition continues to be part of Westminster every year.

1935 – Mrs. Sherman Hoyt handles her Standard Poodle to Best in Show, the first such win ever for a woman handler, a feat that would not be repeated until 1956.

1937 – There are 3,140 dogs are entered at Westminster. Professional Handler Percy Roberts becomes the first person to win Best in Show at Westminster four times, adding to his wins in 1926, 1927, and 1934.

1941 and 1942 – Proceeds from these shows are donated to the American Red Cross. In 1943 and 1944, proceeds go to the benefit of Dogs for Defense. In 1945, the National War Fund is the recipient of the proceeds.

1948 – Television coverage of Westminster takes place for the first time.

1956 – Anne Hone Rogers (later Mrs. James Edward Clark) becomes the first woman professional handler and the second female to handle a dog to the Best in Show award. Within five years, she captures the record for most Bests in Show by a female handler by adding wins in 1959 and 1961.

1968 – The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is the final event of any kind held at Madison Square Garden III. In 1969, the show moves to Madison Square Garden IV, its present location.

1976 – William W. Brainard, Jr. becomes the first person to judge Best In Show three times, a mark that is still unmatched.

1987 – The Westminster Kennel Foundation establishes an annual scholarship program for veterinary students.

1987 – The German Shepherd Dog, Ch. Covy Tucker Hill’s Manhattan is the first dog from the Herding Group to win Best in Show. (In 1983 the Working group was split and the newly formed Herding Group began.)

1989 – A red Doberman Pinscher bitch, Ch. Royal Tudor’s Wild as the Wind CD, becomes the first dog with an obedience title to capture Best In Show (currently, no dog has matched this milestone).

1992 – Westminster becomes the first champions-only dog show held under AKC rules. Awards of Merit are added to the awards, the exact number given to be a function of the number of entries in each breed or variety.

2005 – For the first time, breed judging is broadcast to the general public via streaming video on the Westminster website. Over 1.4 million streaming videos are requested online, from 140 countries, along with 15 million page views.

2005 – For the first time, Madison Square Garden is completely sold out for both days of the dog show.

2006 – Once again, the Garden is completely sold out for both days of the show, despite The Blizzard of 2006, which dropped a record-breaking 27 inches of snow on Manhattan on the Saturday and Sunday before the show.

2006 – Streaming video of the breed judging highlights increases threefold in its second year, producing a staggering 23.7 terabytes (a terabyte is 1,024 gigabytes). This total compares with 6.5 terabytes in 2005. Visitors logged 2.13 million visits (up 33% over the previous year).

2009 – Senior citizens around the world join in the celebration as a Sussex Spaniel named “Stump” becomes the oldest dog ever to capture Best in Show at Westminster. The 10-year-old golden liver dog (registered name Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee) is more than two years older than the previous record holder. 

2011 – For the second year in a row, it’s a Scottish breed taking home the honors for America’s Dog Show, this time a Scottish Deerhound named Hickory (GCH Foxcliffe Hickory Wind). She’s the first Deerhound and only the fifth Hound to capture Best In Show (but the second in four years). Madison Square Garden is sold out for the 7th consecutive year and the television audience is the largest since 2006.

2013 – The move to Piers 92/94 for the daytime breed judging on Monday and Tuesday is a huge success, with enthusiastic crowds packing the Piers for the club’s largest entry (2,720) since 1998.

2014 – The Masters Agility Championship at Westminster is added to Westminster Week, and takes place in Pier 94 on the Saturday before the showcase all-breed dog show. Agility brings back mixed breed dogs (All-American dogs) to the club’s activities for the first time since its earliest years. The event hits its 225 dog limit quickly (with 16 All Americans and entries in 63 breeds from 23 states).

2014 – The Seventh Annual Westminster Kennel Club Hunting Test expands to two days this year, once again reminding all that the club was originally about sporting dogs and beautiful scenic upland game bird fields. A two-day entry of 48 dogs representing many pointing breeds competed once again at the Tamarack Preserve in Millbrook, NY. The Westminster Kennel Club was the first all breed kennel club to hold an American Kennel Club licensed hunting test for pointing breeds.

2015 – Westminster Week, already featuring the world’s most prestigious dog show and the second year of the exciting Masters Agility Championship, adds a new event and partner for this year — the 6th Annual American Kennel Club’s Meet the Breeds. This combined event is promoted as “Meet & Compete” and exemplifies the club’s mission to educate the public about purebred dogs and dog sports.

2016 – Once again the Westminster Kennel Club delivers. This inaugural year for the Masters Obedience Championship brings top obedience dogs from across the country to New York City for a crowd-pleasing competition. Over 3000 dogs came from all 50 states to compete in the three different events (conformation, agility and obedience) that is Westminster Week.

2017 – the year 2017 marked the beginning of a ten-year television partnership with FOX Sports. Nat Geo WILD, a FOX Sports network, telecasts live coverage of the daytime breed judging, a first for the dog show.

2018 – Following in its tradition of giving, 2018 was the inaugural year for the Westminster Gives Back Award. This award was bestowed upon three national breed clubs for their dedication to breed rescue. The Bearded Collie Club of America, the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America and the Great Pyrenees Club of America each received a donation to help support their breed rescue work.

2018 – The finals of the Masters Agility Championship at Westminster aired on the FOX Broadcast Network reaching its largest audience to date.

2020 — Westminster expanded its dog show to three-days to accommodate the closing of Pier 92. AKC’s newest recognized breed, the Azawakh, debuted at Westminster in the Hound Group. The Masters Obedience Championship’s new format creates a High in Trial winner to receive The Streicher Cup

2021 — Westminster will welcome four new breeds to the show, the Barbet, the Biewer Terrier, the Belgian Laekenois, and the Dogo Argentino. The show will be held for the first ever in June and outside New York City at the Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, New York.