The state fair is an Ohio tradition dating back to the 1800s.
The first state fair was held in Cincinnati in 1850. Those directly following it traveled to the people – in Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, Zanesville, Newark, Springfield and other communities.
Lavon Shook, a state fair historian, said that the first fairs differed from ones known today.
“One of their first and primary goals was to provide to the No. 1 industry in Ohio – agriculture -- those folks, who are farmers, a way for while to know and improve, not only their knowledge of farming but also the upkeep or the quality of their lifestyle,” Shook said.
Entertainment usually centered around farming activities.
“For example, they would have a plowing match at the first fair, where they had four or five different plows that had been invented,” Shook said. “They had them go through their efforts to see who could do the best job of plowing.”
The first state fair in Cleveland added women horseback riders.
“Those were quite attractive to farmers,” Shook said.
A year later, in Dayton, organizers added an organ grinder with a monkey.
While the fair moved around Ohio, it used several locations in Columbus. Sullivant farm on the west side and what is now Schiller Park in German Village were two fair stops.
In the 1870s, the Ohio board of agriculture decided to try a five-year experiment to have the fair at one location.
“Let’s see if we can put the fair in one location for five years and see how it works out,” Shook said that they decided.
The experiment led to a 13-year run at what is now Franklin Park.
In 1886, the state purchased 107 acres in north Columbus along 17th Avenue – the current home of the Ohio State Fair.
In time, the fair become more than just a place for famers. People came from all over to see new products.
“Some of the exhibits were actually individual rooms that were decorated and put into place by local companies, Shook said. “Then, they moved on from that to the whole idea that the fair could serve both the agriculture aspect and the commercial aspect and the entertainment.”
One tradition has stood the test of time – the butter cow, which made its first debut at 1903.
“There were perhaps a few years were they didn’t have one, but subsequent to that, each year, that buter cow was created and carved out of butter,” Shook said.
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