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Historically Yours: Missouri State Fair through the twentieth century

Elizabeth Davis
Special to Boonville Daily News

The 1901 State Fair was the first of many and continues today. There have only been two years when the Fair was canceled, 1943 and 1944 because of World War II.

As the Fair was created to display the best-of-the-best in Missouri, competitive judging was a staple. Everything from live-stock, farm produce, and sewing competed for blue ribbons and prize money.

In 1903, the first permanent brick buildings were constructed. The Coliseum was built in 1906. An additional 24 acres was purchased in 1907 to use as free campgrounds for visitors and, for a small fee, tents could be rented for their stay. Soon the area became known as “White City.”

In 1910, the Wright Brothers were on hand to provide aeronautical thrills. That same year, the Woman’s Building was completed offering a rest area, playground, and child-care services, and attendance reached 100,000.

President William H. Taft visited the Fair in 1911 on Mule Day and rode in the parade of mules and hitches that stretched all the way around the race track. Three other presidents have visited the Fair since then: Harry Truman in the early 1950s, Ronald Reagan in 1984, and George W. Bush in 2004.

In 1921, the State Fair was honored to host Missouri’s Centennial Celebration.

Additional attractions have been added over the years. The early 1920s brought operas, ballets, auto parades, and department store style shows. The first farm mechanics display appeared in 1955. Three years later, the first Queen of the Fair was crowned, and competition in the fine arts was added in 1969.

Tragedy interrupted the Fair’s golden anniversary in 1952. About 1:20 a.m. on Aug. 20, a tornado struck the fairgrounds and a carnival employee was killed. Although extensive damage was done to all sixty permanent buildings, the Fair was up and going the following evening.

An 8,000-seat Grandstand was built in 1968.

In 1998, the Missouri State Fair Foundation was established to preserve, improve, and perpetuate the State Fairgrounds and State Fair for generations to come.

Today, the Fairgrounds are used over 350 days a year and hosts more than 300,000 visitors to hundreds of events.

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News for over ten years. She has covered the Civil War, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.davis@gmail.com.