Attending county or state fairs in the summer is a tradition for many Americans. While I did not get a chance to go to county or state fairs as a kid, I’ve now been to county fairs on both sides of the country, and find them fascinating. I’ve seen pony rides, clogging demonstrations, chicken, duck and goose competitions, artwork made from barbed wire, prize-winning zucchini, funnel cakes, rides that go up and around at dizzying rates, and even a dairy cow giving birth! And that’s just the tip of the fair iceberg. Each one is unique to the area it serves, and offers a chance for communities to come together and have fun – and often compete!
The rides, the exhibits, the games of chance, the tasty food – what’s not to love about a county or state fair? Take a stroll down the midway through the photos below, which span more than a century of American fair-going, and see for yourself!
For some visitors to the fair, both the young and the young at heart, the goal is to enjoy the carnival rides, such as a merry-go-round or Ferris Wheel. I especially enjoy the rides of earlier years at smaller fairs, such as the three below, where all that is needed for fun is to go around in a circle!
Going around in a circle is still considered a thrill at modern day fairs, but they have definitely upped the ante when it comes to how high or how fast they spin!
For some, the county or state fair is a chance to vie for prizes, entering everything from chickens to beets to apple pies into competition, hoping for a blue ribbon. These two photos, one from 1916 and one from 2016, show that entering your best corn hasn’t changed much in a century!
Proud winners, such as the two ladies below, display their prize-winning goods and their ribbons from the fair:
And what’s a fair without a few tricky games of skill where prizes are at stake? You’ll see below that the look of the games and prizes of eighty years ago versus those today may have changed, but fundamentally, the idea is still the same!
And finally, there is the food! Always a treat, not always very good for you, food and drink stands are a common sight at every fair, as you can see in these photos from over the years. I particularly like the anticipatory smile on the lady on the right in the first photo as she studies her ice cream cone:
The images above are only a small sample of the sensory wonders of a county or state fair. Some visit the fair to enjoy a day of fun, while others come to the fair as a culmination of a year of hard work raising a calf or a beautiful crop of green beans. Regardless of your reason, I hope you make your way to your local fair – and if you do, have a funnel cake for me!
- The 1930s and 1940s era photos above are all from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection.
- View more color photos of fairs in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs.
- Enjoy many more black-and-white photos of county fairs and state fairs in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives.
- Explore modern day photos of the state fairs in the United States within the Carol M. Highsmith Archive.
- Revisit two previous related Picture This posts: