The History of the American State Fair – Part 1

It is a national celebration that is part of the very core of American culture, and it is the State & County fair. Such events have been organized in the U.S since 1841, with the first recorded fair taking place in New York State in Syracuse. And still today this fair is one of the best fairs in the whole of America. Many people all over the United States can still remember their very first state fair as a child, it was a magical land with many different sights, smells and sounds, with throngs of people bustling hither and thither. And the best thing of all it is all beyond the control of teachers, parents and bosses.

Why was the State Fair Invented?

There are several plausible explanations of why the state fair actually came to be, and who and where this age-old tradition started. But without doubt it is to celebrate American labor and production, namely agriculture, with crops and livestock being the main exhibits.

In the very early fairs there was so much hustle and bustle that agricultural displays had to compete with all manner of fun attractions, such as horse racing, shows and carnivals. And as time went by, the old traditional competitions grew. The tractor pull took over from the plowing contest, horse racing gave way to stunt shows and bike racing. Once the domain of the humble hog all manner of animals is now displayed together with every kind of vegetable you can possibly think of.

The History of Agricultural Fairs

These types of fairs to celebrate the hard work and agriculture of a place dates back as far as biblical times and there does not seem to be any sell by date stamped on them at the moment. As far as the U.S goes, it was around the time of the Civil War when state fairs first started appearing. Prior to this, fairs were far smaller and more local and concentrated solely on livestock and produce.

After the Civil War, more optimism appeared, people wanted to forget the war years and start to enjoy living again. It was during this period that more entertaining aspects started to appear in state fairs; contests, pageants and shows were all the rage.

The Changing Face of State Fairs

State Fairs are pretty robust things, they have adapted and changed with the times as American society has indeed adapted and changed. When the Civil War was raging, most of the people all over the country supported themselves through agriculture, a hundred years later – only 25% of Americans lived on farms.

The state and county fairs were still as strong as ever, but many of the people attending were from cities or urban communities. To these people, seeing livestock so close was a rare thing and a novelty. It is fair to say that these celebrations have tried to keep the old traditions still living, but state fairs have also been innovative to keep the fairs fresh and topical for the day that everybody now lives in.

Today, new meets old at the state fair, and that has now become the tradition, venerable Ferris wheels can still be seen alongside space age theme park rides. Cotton Candy is sold next to Thai food, it is all part of going to the fair; and in part two we discover even more history of the state fair.

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