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Cream Puffs Galore: The Many Years of the Wisconsin State Fair

Aug. 9, 2012
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The Wisconsin State Fair might be best known for its staple treat, cream puffs—two pieces of pastry stuffed with fluffy, white cream. Beyond the delicious food, however, State Fair has a long history, including many cancellations due to national events.

The Wisconsin State Fair began in 1851 in Janesville, Wis. The State Agricultural Society sponsored the first event, which was located on 6 acres of land. At that time, the fair highlighted equipment and products featuring Wisconsin agriculture—including a 200-pound squash! The first State Fair, which cost a dime to attend, hosted 13,000-18,000 people.

From 1852-1885, the fair changed locations frequently. It was hosted in Madison, Watertown, Fond Du Lac and Milwaukee. The Madison fairs were held at a training camp for volunteer troops—the location of what we now know as Camp Randall, the site of the stadium for UW-Madison's football team. It was in 1892 that the Wisconsin State Fair landed at its current site in West Allis.

There have been five instances in which the Wisconsin State Fair was canceled due to national events. The first three cancellations—in 1861, 1862 and 1863—occurred during the Civil War. In 1893, the World's Fair (or Columbian Exposition) in Chicago was expected to draw record attendance. Indeed, the Columbian Exposition attracted 12 million people. Because they perceived correspondingly low attendance at the Wisconsin State Fair, organizers canceled the event that year. The fifth cancellation took place in 1945, when the United States Office of War Transportation requested the fair be canceled because of World War II.

Since 1945, the Wisconsin State Fair has continued to provide delightful entertainment and offerings every year. Of course, many changes have been made to the fair since its early days. State Fair has added carnival rides, more types of animals on display, wider selections of food and live music made up of local and national acts. It's no wonder why residents have made State Fair a local tradition for more than 150 years.


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