Monday, August 5, 2013

Apple #646: State Fairs

I went to our state fair this past week and, as always, had a marvelous time.  I love looking in on the many and various animals that people bring to show at the fair, and I always hope to catch some sort of competition where either adults or kids are showing the animals they raised, in hopes of winning a ribbon.  The food is always an adventure of one kind or another.  The rides are OK.  My favorite is, hands down, the Ferris wheel.

Every state's fair is a celebration of that state's agriculture and animal husbandry, so each fair is a little different.  Which means I won't be able to find many facts about state fairs in general.  But I can give you some highlights.

Ferris wheel at the Delaware State Fair. I bet you wouldn't have thought Delaware had a State Fair, would you?
(Photo by Lee Cannon on Flickr)

  • Which state fair do you think is the oldest?  Bet you didn't guess Michigan's.  Their first state fair was held in 1849.
  • For years, North Dakota had 4 state fairs in different locations.  By 1966, they decided it was time to have only 1, so they chose the location that was the most successful of the 4, and that was Minot.  It's been held in Minot ever since.
  • Iowa's State Fair is among the largest, covering 445 acres, including 160 acres of wooded campgrounds.  Attendance for the last several years has topped 1 million. 


  • Minnesota's state fair boasts a butter sculpture of that year's Princess Kay of the Milky Way (a fancy name for Minnesota's dairy princess), plus an "All You Can Drink" milk stand.  About 20,000 gallons of milk are consumed through that one concession.
  • State Fairs with butter cows: Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, Utah 

The butter cow & calf at the Ohio State Fair, along with 2010's companion sculptures: Joe Thomas, offensive lineman for the Cleveland Browns; a giant football; and Chinedum Ndukwe, safety for the Cincinnati Bengals. Naturally.
(Photo from the Ohio Lottery)

One year, in addition to its butter cow, Iowa featured American Gothic in butter.  It seems fitting, somehow.
(Photo from the Iowa State Fair)

  • At the Iowa State Fair, more than 50 types of food are sold on a stick. In addition to the likely suspects such as corn dogs, turkey drumsticks, cotton candy, and deep-fried Twinkies, here are some of the other stick-delivered items: 
      • pickles
      • bacon
      • hot bologna
      • hard-boiled eggs
      • pineapple
      • honey
      • octopus-shaped hotdogs
      • turkey sausage wrapped in a pancake
      • unicorn lollipops.  These last are undescribed, as if what they are must be obvious.
  • If that's not enough for you, the Minnesota State Fair has more than 70 types of food on a stick. 

Also at the Minnesota State Fair, Cocoa Cheese Bites: Nuggets of Wisconsin cheddar cheese breaded with Cocoa Puffs and fried, served with chocolate dipping sauce.
(Photo from the Minnesota State Fair, Aug 22-Sept 2, 2013)

  • The Wisconsin State Fair sold 7,065 orders of Deep Fried Beer from its Budweiser Grill in 2011.
  • Cream Puffs are apparently Wisconsin State Fair's big food item. In 2012, they sold over 375,000 of them.
  • At the Kansas State Fair, you can get alligator on a stick.  At the California State Fair, you can get python.


  • An estimated 170-200 animals are born during the course of Minnesota's State Fair, which lasts for 12 days. 
  • The largest rabbit at the Iowa State Fair was a 2012 participant. It weighed 22 pounds, 5.5 ounces. 
  • Kansas State Fair's largest pumpkin was in 2007, weighing 976.2 pounds. 
  • More than 40,000 ribbons, rosettes, and other prizes are awarded at Iowa's State Fair each year.  

This turkey won 3rd place! He's probably from Perry County, but I like to think his name is Perry.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

You can also see superhero sheep.  In order to keep their sheared and washed wool clean prior to being shown, sheep handlers dress their sheep in these canvas outfits. To me, they look like superhero suits.
(Photo from the Minnesota State Fair, Aug 22-Sept 2, 2013)

A sheep getting sheared. Geez, right down to the pink.  But see? After you go to all that trouble, you don't want the 'do to get messed up.
(Photo by the Apple Lady) 

I wanted to take this bunny home.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Just as I took this picture, the thing went off.  I mean, this rooster crowed right in my face, so immediately and so loudly, I jumped.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

This duck really didn't like my camera pointing at it.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

This duck, however, is just chillin' under her water dish. She's a duck under water! Har har
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

It's never the ones you expect.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

The animals are my favorite part. In case you can't tell. 

Changes in State Fair Culture

  • Changes in consumer eating preferences have affected what animals are brought to state fairs.  In the 1960s, the popular conception was "the more fat, the more tender the beef."  So most of the cattle at the fairs were Herefords and Angus, and they were bred to be "low-slung and broad."
  • Now, with more people looking for leaner beef, other more exotic breeds are represented, including Simmental, Brahman, Charolais, and Maine-Anjou cattle.
  • In the dairy realm, fewer farmers bring Jersey cows because their milk has a high butterfat content, which is out of fashion today.  Now most of the dairy cows are Holsteins.
  • The people who buy the animals have changed, too.  Now it's the commercial rabbit breeder and the purebred swine breeder who are looking over the farmers' animals, and they're more interested in breeding processes that require a greater degree of technical training and scientific knowledge.
  • The entertainment is different now, too. In the 1900s, fairgoers enjoyed cracker- and pie-eating contests, nail-driving competitions, and chances to guess how many kernels of corn a hog can eat in a day.  Today's entertainment features tractor pulls, auto races, fine arts exhibits, and performances by popular musicians. 

Famous People & Activities

  • Teddy Roosevelt gave his famous "speak softly and carry a big stick" speech at the Minnesota State Fair in 1901. 
  • The Iowa State Fair's Grandstand performance that drew the largest crowd to a single show remains the Beach Boys, who drew 25,400 to one show in 1975. 
  • At the Minnesota State Fair, the act that broke their all-time Grandstand ticket sales record was Christina Aguilera. 
  • The Texas State Fair -- excuse me, the State Fair of Texas -- is held in the fall. This year it's Sept 27-Oct 20. The Texas-Oklahoma U football game has been played at the State Fair each year since 1929. 
  • At the Illinois State Fair (Aug 8-18), you can milk a cow yourself, and then you can taste wines in the Twilight Ballroom while listening to live jazz, big band, or swing.
  • This year, Ke$ha and Journey will be performing at the Illinois State Fair.  Not together.  Separate performances.

There are also many fine products available for purchase. Such as this highly elegant fox ring with genuine fuzzy tuft. Only $10!
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Don't forget the rides. This is the Skyflyer at the Minnesota State Fair.
(Photo from the Minnesota State Fair, Aug 22-Sept 2, 2013)

About the end of the day at the Ohio State Fair, but people are still fairgoing it up. That's a double Ferris wheel in the distance.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Cenex, State Fair Fun Facts
CBS News, By the Numbers: State Fair Facts & Tid Bits, August 23, 2012
Missouri State Fair History Summary
Iowa State Fair Trivia and Historical Highlights
Meet Minneapolis, 10 Secrets We Bet You Didn't Know About the State Fair, August 21, 2012
Minnesota State Fair Trivia
Wisconsin State Fair Fun Facts and Media Kit on a Stick
Kansas State Fair Fun Fair Facts
State Fair of Texas State Fair Facts
Illinois State Fair


  1. I'm shocked Minnesota would use Wisconsin cheddar in its cocoa cheese bites. On the other hand, cocoa cheese bites!!

  2. I know! In fact they seem proud of using Wisconsin cheese. And yes, I want to try those Cocoa cheese bites, too!

  3. Kristina Emick8/06/2013 2:13 PM

    Really enjoyed the Apple Lady's photos. As for Perry, that turkey was robbed.

  4. Thanks, Kristina! Yeah, Perry is one fine-looking turkey. Two farmer-type guys were standing near the turkey cages, and one of them said to the other, "So I'll give you a call right around Thanksgiving time," and the other one said, "Sounds good," and they shook on it.


If you're a spammer, there's no point posting a comment. It will automatically get filtered out or deleted. Comments from real people, however, are always very welcome!