From Ohio History Central
Fair goers passing through the Ohio Gate to attend the Ohio State Fair, Columbus, Ohio, ca. 1960-1969.
The Ohio State Fair is an annual exhibition held at the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus that showcases Ohio farming and commercial products and achievements.
In the 1840s, farmers began to join agricultural organizations, and the state of Ohio began to take an interest in the challenges that farmers faced. As a result, the state government created the Board of Agriculture in 1846. The Board of Agriculture planned to hold the first statewide fair in 1849, but a cholera epidemic forced the fair's cancellation. The first Ohio State Fair was held the next year instead. The city of Cincinnati hosted the fair in 1850, which went on for three days.
In the early years of the fair, most visitors and exhibitors came from the general vicinity of where the fair was being held. Transportation connecting the state together was still limited. As a result, the Board of Agriculture decided to move the fair to a different location each year so that more people would have access to it over time. A number of cities hosted the fair, including Columbus (1851, 1855, 1864, 1865), Cleveland (1852, 1856, 1862, 1863), Cincinnati (1850, 1857), Dayton (1853, 1860, 1861, 1866, 1867), Sandusky (1858), Zanesville (1859), Toledo (1868, 1869), Springfield (1870, 1871), and Mansfield (1872, 1873).
Ultimately, the Board decided that the state capital should be the permanent site for the state fair, and it moved to Columbus in 1874. By the 1870s, the state's railroad system had improved significantly, and it was much easier to travel from all parts of the state. The current fairgrounds, known today as the Ohio Expo Center, were completed in 1886. The Ohio State Fair has been held at these fairgrounds ever since.
The fair continued to evolve over the years, often adopting special traditions that still exist today. The early fairs focused entirely on agriculture, but fair organizers soon began including entertainment as well. In 1896, electricity lit the Ohio State Fair for the first time, making it the first fair in the nation with electric lights. A.T. Shelton & Company sponsored the first Butter Cow and Calf in 1903, a popular attraction at the fair today as well. In the 1960s, a surprise sculpture was added to the butter exhibit that changes every year. In 2003, in honor of the centennial of flight, butter sculptures of Orville and Wilber Wright were exhibited. In the 1920s, an All-Ohio Boys Band began to perform at the fair. Over the years, this band was expanded to include girls as well. The All-Ohio State Fair Youth Choir was added to the musical entertainment in 1963.
The Ohio State Fair has been held every year except during World War II, when the Board of Agriculture chose to cancel the fair between 1942 and 1945. Instead, Ohio rented the fairgrounds to the U.S. War Department, and the site was used to repair aircraft and store equipment. Once the war ended, the fair resumed.
In 2003, the Ohio State Fair celebrated its 150th opening. The fair has grown tremendously over the years, expanding from a three-day event in 1850 to seventeen days in 2003.