Several conditions are required for a town to have a thriving convention business. First, there must be local clubs and organizations affiliated with larger state organizations. The members of these clubs and organizations are usually the ones who actually request that an annual convention be held in their town, and they are often required to do much of the work of planning and hosting the convention. Second, the town must have the services required to meet the special needs of convention groups: hotels, restaurants or caterers, and a place to hold the group's meetings. Interesting attractions and things to do after the day's meetings are done can also make the location more attractive. Finally, it helps if the town has good transportation access and a central location.
Waco has always had all of these elements, and as a result, has long enjoyed a healthy convention trade. Waco has always been a logical crossroads in Texas for travelers going south and north to the population centers of Dallas, Austin, and Houston. Hotels and restaurants sprang up to meet travelers' needs. Its location midway between Dallas and Austin made Waco a favorite overnight stopping place for travelers, from the earliest days when the roads between these three cities were formed from rutted dirt. By 1870, when the Suspension Bridge was built, Waco's convention trade was already established. The arrival of railroads in 1871 improved Waco's access to Texans and it has gotten even easier to get to Waco since then.
Below is a list of the very earliest conventions that were held in Waco. Most of the data on early Waco conventions was found in the Handbook of Texas Online.
- May 1857 - The Democratic state convention (the earliest convention known to be held in Waco)
- 1857 - The Texas Methodist Convention.
- 1871 and 1896 - The Texas Association of the Deaf convention
- August, 1878 and 1884 - The Greenback Party state convention, an agrarian movement.
- June, 1886 - The Texas Baptists came together in Waco to form the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The Baptist women's groups met in Waco at the same time and changed the name of their organizations to Baptist Women Mission Workers, later the Women's Missionary Union.
- May, 1888 - Charles W. Geers, pioneer Texas journalist and publisher, served as the chairman pro tem of a third-party convention of farmers, laborers, and stock raisers.
- August 20-22, 1889 - Delegates to the Colored Men's State Convention gathered in Waco.
- In the summer of 1890, the convention of the People's Party of Texas was held in Waco.
- In April 1891, the Texas Farmers' Alliance convention was held in Waco.
- The National Association of Letter Carriers, Texas Section convention was held in 1897. In 1997, the group again met in Waco to commemorate that first Waco meeting.
Hotels to house attendees, and auditoriums to hold large gatherings are also important to the convention trade. Waco has seen many hotels built over the years to house travelers. The Raleigh is still standing and is used as a state office building.
- 1870's - McClelland hotel, 103 rooms.
- 1881 - Pacific Hotel, 4th and Franklin Ave. 4 stories with an elevator and a bar. Later became Hotel Metropole.
- 1898 - New State House Hotel, 6th and Franklin Ave. 4 stories.
- 1899 - The Waco Auditorium, 6th and Columbus Ave. Seating for 3,000. A postcard from the era advertised it as the "largest Theatre and Convention Hall in Texas."
- 1913 - Hotel Raleigh, 8th and Austin Ave. 10 stories.
- 1914 - Hotel Waco, 6th and Austin Ave. 4 stories.
- 1929 - Roosevelt Hotel, 4th and Austin Ave. 12 stories. Financed by a local group of investors, who hired Conrad Hilton to operate it. The Garden Room sat 150 people for a banquet.