Ohio State Fair
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. The fair showcases Ohio agriculture, commercial products, arts, natural resources, and other achievements.
In the 1840s, farmers began to join agriculture organizations. These organizations supported those working in agriculture, or the practice of farming, including growing crops and raising animals to provide food, wool, and other products The State of Ohio took an interest in the challenges that farmers faced, and created the Board of Agriculture in 1846. The Board of Agriculture planned to hold the first State Fair in 1849, but a cholera epidemic forced the fair's cancellation. The Board held the first State Fair in 1850 at Camp Washington, just outside downtown Cincinnati. 25,000-30,000 people attended the fair from October 2nd-4th.
In the fair’s early years, most visitors and exhibitors came from nearby. Transportation was still limited for attendees, both visitors and exhibitors. As a result, the Board of Agriculture decided to move the fair to a different location each year so that more people could attend 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).
Eventually, the Board decided that the state capital should be the permanent site for the State Fair. In 1874, Columbus became the State Fair’s new home. The Franklin County Fairgrounds, located east of the Ohio Statehouse, hosted the State Fair. 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 Expositions Center, were utilized starting in 1886. Buildings have been added and land purchased from the 1880s to present day. 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. In the late 1890s, the Ohio State Fair was one of the first in the nation with electric lights. A.T. Sheldon & Company sponsored the first Butter Cow and Calf in 1903, a popular attraction at the fair today. In 1964, a surprise sculpture, a 700 pound football player, was added to the Butter Cow exhibit. From then on, the butter cow and calf are accompanied by a special, surprise sculpture revealed at the Fair.
The early fairs focused entirely on agriculture. As time passed, fair organizers began to include entertainment as well. 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 from 1942-1945, and in 2020 during the most recent global pandemic. In 1942, Ohio Governor John W. Bricker cancelled the fair. During this time, Ohio rented the fairgrounds to the U.S. War Department. The site was used by the Army Air Corps to repair aircraft and store equipment. Once the war ended, the fair resumed in 1946. The 2020 State Fair was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the State Fair was open to exhibitors only.
In 2003, the Ohio State Fair celebrated its 150th opening. The fair has grown over the years, expanding from a three-day event in 1850 to seventeen days from 1981-2003. The popular attraction has since shortened its run time to twelve days.