This weeks Historical Marker is placed north of Court House Park, in Janesville Wisconsin and tells a brief story of Wisconsin’s first State Fair. The fair was planned by the Agricultural and Mechanics Institute; Partly to increase membership to the organization, and also because the process of farming was changing, and a fair could show off the new technology and agricultural products available.
The fair took place on the first and second day of October in 1851 on a six-acre plot near the Rock River. This was the first of its kind in Wisconsin, and was a terrific success. Attendance for the two-day event was estimated at 8 to 12 thousand people. There was such a large crowd that finding a room for the night was not an easy task.
For the cost of ten cents fair goers could enjoy farm machinery and product displays. There was also a variety of other things to see like produce, animals, and flowers among other competitions. The first was ploughing which took place east of the fairground; Each of the ten competitors had a quarter acre to work. The winner was J. Milton May, with a time of 26 minutes using his team of oxen, who later drew a lot of interest. The best job of ploughing was done by Alexander Ainslio of Rock.
Some of the other competitions and winners were:
Short Horn Bulls – E. Perkins of dodge Co.
S.A. Thurston of Racine
Oxen – H.H Simons of Janesville
Stallions – R. M. Wheeler of Janesville
Matched Horses – Addison Baker of Racine
Plums – Mr. J.C. Howard of Milwaukee
Apples – F.K. Paruix of Delavan who had a display of 35 variety’s
Harrison Ludington of Milwaukee
Charles Gifford from Spring St. Nursery in Milwaukee
S. P. Beedier of Milwaukee
The winners of the competitions took home prizes ranging from $1.50 to $3.00 as well as bragging rights associated with being a part of our first state fair!
Before the fair found a permanent home in West Allis in 1892, it bounced around from city to city each year. Some of the host communities were Watertown, Fon du Lac, Madison, and Milwaukee.
In its 166-year history, the fair has only been canceled five times. The first three were during the Civil War of 1861, ’62 and ’63. The fourth cancellation was during the Columbian Expo held in Chicago in 1893. The most recent was in 1945, by request of the war department at the end of WWII.
As the fair grew each year new attractions were added. Drawing more interest to this state and people to the growing communities.