Fair Play

What began as exhibitions of agricultural prowess, is now all about the good times.

By Des Keller

A body has to really stand out to get the attention of the more than 3 million visitors who attend The State Fair of Texas every year. It seems 52-foot-tall Big Tex, with his 75-gallon Stetson hat, size 70 boots and 50-pound belt buckle is just the guy for the job.

For some six decades now, Big Tex has been the fair’s official greeter, booming “Howdy” about 60 times a day to fairgoers during the event’s 24-day run. He may as well be welcoming all of us who trek to our respective county, state and regional fairs each year—celebrations that are now as much cultural tradition as they are showcases for agriculture, thrill rides, food and fun.

The first fairs in the states are believed to have been those promoted by King George II about 1745 in Trenton Township, NJ, for the buying and selling of livestock and other products. They soon followed in Canada, being introduced there in Nova Scotia, but didn’t go annual until well into the next century in either country.

The judging of livestock has almost always been a part of these fairs, as have been competitions among cooks gardeners, quilters and seamstresses. And, of course, food has always been front and center at these fairs. Several of them have featured butter sculptures ever since the dairy industry promoted the practice in the early 1900s. The tradition really caught in Iowa, where a butter cow and other creamy masterpieces have been showcased annually since 1911.

In the past decade or more there has been a competitive trend in terms of how many foods can be delivered deep-fried, or on a stick, or both for good measure. At last year’s State Fair of Texas, fried beer (beer inside a deep-fried pretzel pocket) and deep-fried  s’mores Pop Tarts were on the menu.

Still, farm and ranch life remain at the center of fairs and expositions here in North America. Thankfully, it’s a tradition that continues today, offering new generations a chance join in on all the fun.