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What is the history, origin & usage of the term ‘showroom’ instead of shop / store / storefront?

How / where did it come about? Who came up with it?

While the term appears in Lexico, there is no etymology. Wikipedia is similarly silent on the origin, though Wiktionary dates the verb form back to 2011.

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    I understand a showroom to be a place where you go to look at items for sale which are too large to carry away with you, to decide which kind you want and possibly place an order for one like it. For instance washing machines, gas fires, new cars. Aug 10, 2019 at 7:28
  • Yes. I’d like to know how & when the usage of the word started.
    – Alex S
    Aug 10, 2019 at 7:29
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    Merriam-Webster says the first known usage was 1616, but not where. Aug 10, 2019 at 7:59
  • @WeatherVane - I wonder what was being SHOWN Off first? Especially in 1616. Jewellry? Horse Carriages?
    – Alex S
    Aug 10, 2019 at 10:41
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    Perhaps the first use of "showroom" was for a "theatre". Aug 10, 2019 at 10:45

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The OED confirms the Merriam Webster assertion of 1616. It gives in all three senses of the word but I believe the one you are looking for is sense 1. But clearly its importance takes off with the arrival of a consumerist society in the late-eighteenth, and early-nineteenth centuries.

  1. A room used to display goods for sale, (now) esp. large items such as vehicles, appliances, or furniture. Also figurative.

1616 R. Cocks Diary 2 Jan. (1883) I. 95 To keepe the shopp or shew rowme.

1617 R. Cocks Diary 23 July 283 We delivered divers sortes merchandiz to Jno. Japon to sell in the shopp or shew roome over the way.

1781 S. Neville Diary 30 Oct. (1950) xii. 280 The finished goods are placed in a long shew room for the inspection of strangers.

1829 T. Carlyle Voltaire in Crit. & Misc. Ess. (1840) II. 163
Voltaire's knowledge is not a mere show-room of curiosities, but truly a museum for purposes of teaching.

1839 Dickens Nicholas Nickleby x. 93 Madame Mantalini's show-rooms were on the first floor.

1879 F. W. Robinson Coward Conscience II. xxi. 160 From the busy workshops into the great show-room.

1936 Motorboating Jan. 78/2 The importance to a customer of seeing his prospective purchase in the water and not only on the showroom floor.

1959 News Chron. 28 Nov. 6/8 At many hi-fi showrooms you can hear the relative performances of different speakers.

2007 Independent 10 Feb. (Save & Spend section) 9/1 One of the first Audi R8 supercars, coming to a showroom near you.

The other two senses given are:

  1. A room in which a show (in various senses) takes place. Now esp.: a room in a hotel, nightclub, etc., in which entertainment is performed.

  2. Any of the rooms in a mansion, stately home, or the like which are regularly open to the public for viewing. Usually in plural.

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