The Iowa State Fair started last week and people around town have been talking about when they are going to go to the fair and what things they like to see. The very first Iowa State Fair was held in a little town called Fairfield, all the way back in 1854. This year, 161 years after that first fair, over one million people will come to Des Moines to celebrate an event that is very well-known, not just in Iowa, but around the United States. People from around the world come to Iowa to visit our fair, and everyone has something they like to do there.
Some people like to go to concerts and see the shows at the fair. There are talent shows and radio shows and big stars that play at the grandstand. There are pageants and art demonstrations, and animal shows, when 4-H students show their chickens and sheep and cows.
But that is the modern fair, and not how it was when it started. The people who started the fair way back in the 19th century wanted to have a place where people could learn about Agriculture – that is farming – and help consumers – those are people who buy food – to learn about where their food comes from.
There were some of the same contests when it started. Farmers were judged on their crops and livestock they brought to show at the fair. In 2015, farmers still bring sheep, pigs, cows, chickens, and even rabbits and goats to be judged. It gives them a chance to show off their products.
In 1886, the Iowa State Fair moved to Des Moines, to the place where everyone comes to visit today. Many of the older buildings that you walk past are from this time. If you want to see what kids who went to the fair around the turn of the century saw, take a walk through Pioneer Hall, it sits on top of the hill by the Sky Glider. The Livestock Pavilion, where they hold a lot of the animal shows, was built in 1902, but improved with air conditioning in 2011. It is a nice place to take a break during a hot day.
The rides at the Midway weren’t always at the fair. Early on, there wasn’t as much fun stuff to do. Ye Old Mill, which is the oldest ride at the fair, wasn’t complete until 1924! Still, there were fun things to see and do, and good foods to eat.
Do you have a favorite food at the fair? It might be fried, or on a stick. Sweet or savory, everyone usually has something that they really like to eat. The corn dog is a 20th century invention. It is delicious, sure, but people who went to the first fairs, or even the 21st fair were not eating corn dogs. They were more likely to eat fried chicken! There was no bucket of chocolate chip cookies, either. Families may have brought their own food to the first fairs, and picnicked with the pigs!
So enjoy the fair, if you get to go this year. Good luck if you are showing anything in the competitions. Come see the Living History Farms booth, just down from the butter cow in the Agriculture Building. And if you can’t make it this year, don’t worry. The fair will be around next August as well!