Newspaper article MinnPost.com

The Minnesota State Fair: Origins and Traditions

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

The Minnesota State Fair: Origins and Traditions

Article excerpt

The Minnesota State Fair is a yearly celebration of agriculture, crafts, food, and community. In the twenty-first century, nearly 1.8 million people attend the twelve-day event every year, making it the second-largest state fair in the nation. The gathering is a Minnesota tradition that has more than earned its nickname, "The Great Minnesota Get-Together."

Agricultural societies held fairs in Minnesota Territory during the early 1850s. They were designed to showcase the crops, livestock, produce, and handiwork of Minnesota's territorial residents. Fair organizers hoped that displaying proof of Minnesota's productive farms and active social life would encourage immigration to the territory. The first state fair was held in Minneapolis in 1859, and the fair's governing body, the Minnesota State Agricultural Society, was officially chartered the next year.

In its early years the fair had no set location. Between 1860 and 1884, it was held in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, Redwing, Owatonna, and Winona. Some of these fairs were more successful than others. Between 1874 and 1876, displays were greatly diminished by a grasshopper plague that destroyed many Minnesota crops. When fairs were held outside of their city, Minneapolis citizens organized a competing fair. The traveling state fairs were difficult to organize and often poorly attended.

By the 1880s, the Minnesota State Agricultural Society had decided that the fair needed a permanent home. In 1885, Ramsey County donated land from the county poor farm as a site for the fair. Later that year, the first fair was held on the new fairgrounds situated between St. Paul and Minneapolis, in what would become Falcon Heights. The site ushered in a new era for the Minnesota State Fair.

The State Fair placed the bounties of Minnesota at center stage. In an attempt to lure farmers to the young state, early fairs introduced new breeds of livestock and crops. Exhibits proudly displayed the bushels of wheat and pounds of creamery butter that Minnesota produced. Prized livestock, giant vegetables, and elaborate arrays of farm produce became highlights of each year's fair. …

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