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It’s so much a part of the American landscape that we tend to it for granted. State Fairs mean so much to so many. From music to food, agriculture to popular culture, entertainment, and, of course, the midway, there seemingly is something for everyone.

And, now it serves as a production set for political campaigns.

And, millions turn out.

One estimate had over 3 million attending the State Fair in Texas. Minnesota 1.8 million, Iowa over 1 million. That is why you see the likes of Donald Trump and Chris Christie at fairs they otherwise would be unlikely to visit.

As mentioned above, it has not always been that way, however.

State fairs began in the nineteenth century for the purpose of promoting state agriculture, through competitive exhibitions of livestock and display of farm products. It was as as the U.S. evolved from a predominantly agrarian to an industrial society  in the twentieth century that modern state fairs came to expand to include carnival amusement rides and games, display of industrial products, automobile racing, and entertainment such as musical concerts.

The first U.S. state fair was that of New York,  held in 1841 in Syracuse, and has been held annually to the present. The second state fair was in Detroit, Michigan , which ran from 1849 to 2009.

Credit for the idea of the state fair is often given to Elkanah Watson, a wealthy New England farmer and businessman who showcased his sheep in the public square of Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1807.

Many state fairs have been the launching places for unique activities. For example, butter sculptures, introduced initially by the dairy industry to promote its product, date to 1903.

These days among the many traditional treats on offer to fairgoers: deep fried candy bars, funnel cakes, cotton candy, pizza, corn dogs and elephant ears. But contemporary innovative gourmet options may be found as well.

A place of tradition, the State Fair continues to evolve and create new traditions.

 

 

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