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County and State Fairs


COUNTY AND STATE FAIRS. Originally set up on major trade routes, county and state fairs began as a venue where people could display their crafts and skills, and sell or trade produce or other items. The fairs combined socialization and amusement, but offered a more serious side of learning and selling.

America's first fairs were promoted by King George II in 1745 in Trenton Township, New Jersey, for the buying and selling of livestock and other products. The fairs, held in April and October, continued for five years until they were banned By the legislature. (Begun again in 1858, fairs were only held on a sporadic basis and in various locations within Trenton Township. After the Inter-State Fair Association was formed in 1888, land was purchased in Trenton to establish a permanent home for the Inter-State Fair.)

In 1798, the descendents of the Umberfield family, the first settlers in the town of Burton, Ohio, held what they called a "jollification," later known as a fair. Twenty-five years later the "jollification" was taken up by Geauga County, Ohio, farmers when they joined together in 1823 to form the Geauga County Agricultural and Manufacturing Society. The members organized a county fair to show the progress in agricultural products and farm-related labor saving tools and machines. Individuals brought produce from their harvests to show and share.

As activities and exhibits began to reflect wider interests and were no longer limited strictly to agricultural-related endeavors, more people attended fairs. The backbone of the fairs—competitions between gardeners, cooks, quilters, and seamstresses—has always remained a big draw to the fair events. Other competitions included livestock, crops, rodeos, cornhusking by hand, and pie eating contests. Prizes were given for the best exhibits and to event winners.

Horse races were early attractions. Then came Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show, which began in 1888, and others like it. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, as transportation styles changed, hot-air balloons were exhibited with parachutists jumping from them as an added attraction. The introduction of the automobile during the same period soon brought car racing to fairs. Carnivals—including merry-go-rounds powered by live horses—be-came a fair mainstay. County fairs are smaller than state fairs and generally have one or more permanent structures such as exhibit halls, grandstands, cattle barns, and stables. County fairs are usually held for two to four days and are run by volunteers. A state fair lasts at least a week and can go on for as long as a month. Although many volunteers are used for state fairs, the overall management is in the hands of either a state fair board or a private company.


Marling, Karal Ann. Blue Ribbon: A Social and Pictorial History of the Minnesota State Fair. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1990.

Perl, Lila. America Goes to the Fair: All About State and County Fairs in the USA. New York: Morrow, 1974.


See alsoCircus and Carnival .

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