“The majority of the attendees knew what they were getting together to play. It was only Gary’s porch, after all.” - Tim Kask
From humble beginnings at 330 Center Street in the City of Lake Geneva, the Gen Con Game Fair grew into Wisconsin's largest gaming convention. Held every August from 1968 to 2002, Gen Con became a pilgrimage for gamers from around the world.
The Lake Geneva Wisconsin website notes the earliest record of people seeing what would become the City of Lake Geneva was a party traveling with the Kinzie family between their army post at Fort Dearborn (Chicago) and Fort Winnebago (Portage City) near the Fox and Wisconsin River portage in 1831.
After the American Civil War, the town became a resort for wealthy Chicago families. These families began construction of the many mansions on the lake. The Chicago Fire of 1871 caused many Chicago families to move to their summer homes on the lake while the city was rebuilt. The construction and maintenance of these mansions, as well as household employment, developed a separate industry in the town adding to the milling, furniture, wagon and typewriter manufacturing enterprises.
After the arrival of the railroad, thousands of tons of Lake Geneva ice were shipped each year to the Chicago market, until the beginning of World War II. Today, the City of Lake Geneva remains a tourist attraction for both gamers and non-gamers alike.
Gen Con "0."
Gen Con "0", as it's now known, was held in August 1967 at Lake Geneva resident E. Gary Gygax's home at 330 Center Street (Laws 10, Johnson 1). Between 12 and 20 people were invited. Three card tables crowded the small front porch, and miniatures gaming was held in the basement (Laws 10). When asked about 542 Sage Street (Don Kaye's old house) and 330 Center Street, Gary Gygax said, "…been to the former a lot and lived in the latter."
Gen Con I
Gen Con I was held at Lake Geneva's Horticultural Hall, 330 Broad Street, on 24 Aug 1968 (Peterson 11). Gygax ran the event himself that first year, even setting up the tables and chairs (Laws 11). Miniatures games, Fight in the Skies, naval wargaming, lectures, and demonstrations made up the bulk of that first convention (Peterson 12).
Gen Con II
Gen Con II was held at Horticultural Hall, 23-24 Aug 1969 (Peterson 25). Minnesota resident and future Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Dave Arneson met Gary Gygax for the first time at Gen Con II (Peterson 25).
Gen Con III
Gen Con III was held at Horticultural Hall and the Guild Hall of the Episcopal Church of Lake Geneva, 320 Broad Street, 22-23 Aug 1970 (Peterson 33).
Gen Con IV
Gen Con IV was held at Horticultural Hall, the Guild Hall, and The American Legion Hall, 735 Henry Street, 21-22 Aug 1971. The American Legion Hall was the old Third Ward School and where most of the miniatures were played (Laws 20). The Story of TSR mentions that the convention was dedicated almost exclusively to Avalon Hill's new game Panzerblitz.
Gen Con V
Gen Con V was held at George Williams College in Williams Bay WI, 19-20 Aug 1972 (Laws 21, Peterson 56). Ran by the International Federation of Wargaming (Laws 21, Peterson 56) and Dave Arneson ran one game of Dungeons & Dragons quietly "under wraps." (Laws 21).
Gen Con VI
Gen Con VI was held at Horticultural Hall, the Guild Hall, and the American Legion Hall, 18-19 Aug 1973 and was hosted by the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association (Peterson 77). Gary Gygax and Brian Blum (who would later become partners) met at Gen Con VI (Laws 22, History of TSR 8). October of 1973 also saw the founding of a new company by Gary Gygax and Don Kaye, Tactical Studies Rules, or TSR (Peterson 77, The History of TSR 8).
Gen Con VII
Gen Con VII was held at Horticultural Hall, the Guild Hall, and the American Legion Hall, 23-25 Aug 1974 (Gen Con's first three-day convention). Gen Con VII also saw the first introduction of Dungeons & Dragons (Peterson 474+).
Gen Con VIII
Gen Con VIII was held at Horticultural Hall, the Guild Hall, and the American Legion Hall, 22-24 Aug 1975 (Peterson 522). January of 1975 saw the sudden death of Don Kaye, and eventually, Tactical Studies Rules was dissolved. Gary Gygax and Brian Blume then created TSR Hobbies, Inc. (The History of TSR 8).
Gen Con IX
Gen Con IX was held at Horticultural Hall, the Guild Hall, and the American Legion Hall, 20-22 Aug 1976 (Peterson 564). Gen Con IX saw many firsts. TSR Hobbies ran the convention, Fritz Leiber was the special guest, and Bob Blake ran the first D&D Open tournament (Laws 29 +, Johnson 2, The Story of TSR 9).
Gen Con X
Gen Con X was held at Horticultural Hall, the American Legion Hall, and the Playboy Club of Lake Geneva, 18-21 Aug 1977 (Laws 34, Peterson 588+). This would become the last Gen Con held in Lake Geneva. Gen Con-X was also the first four-day convention.
Gen Con XI – Gen Con 17
Gen Con XI - 17, were held at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside campus, in the City of Kenosha from August 1978 to August of 1984 (Laws 40+, Johnson 2+).
Gen Con 18 – Gen Con ‘97
Gen Con 18 – Gen Con '97, were held at MECCA in the City of Milwaukee from August 1985 to August 1997. MECCA (Milwaukee Exposition Center and Convention Arena) would be torn down and replaced with a new convention center.
Gen Con '98 – 2002
Gen Con '98 - Gen Con 2002 were held at the then named Midwest Express Center, also in the City of Milwaukee.GenCon 2002, Gen Con's 35th anniversary, was the last Gen Con held in Wisconsin.
Laws, Robin D. 40 Years of GEN CON. St. Paul: Trident, Inc., 2007. Print.
Peterson, Jon. Playing at the World. San Diego: Unreason Press, 2012. Print.
TSR, Inc. The Story of TSR 1975-1999. Renton: Wizards of the Coast, Inc., Print.
Johnson, Harold. GEN CON & Me Or Wisconsin Johnson Does GEN CON. Unknown.
Lake Geneva Wisconsin Site. History of Lake Geneva. Web. 27 Nov 2015.
Gygax, Gary. Electronic correspondence. 21 Mar 2004.
Kask, Tim. Electronic correspondence. 27 Oct 2015.