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History of the Missouri State Fair

Since the inception of the Missouri State Fair in 1901, Missouri families have made the trip to Sedalia for the animal exhibitions and competitions, concerts, and delicious fair food.

The Fair was established only after a group of committed livestock breeders proposed action in 1897. While there were numerous cities vying for the Fair to be held in their towns, Sedalia prevailed with the highest bid of 150 acres. The 40th and 41st General Assemblies allotted a combined $65,000 to establish the site and begin construction. 

The Fair was led by Norman J. Coleman of St. Louis and took place from Sept. 9-13, 1901. The rhetoric surrounding the first Fair was enthusiastic and eager, but the Fair faced challenges of its own. There was a devastating drought in 1901, leading farmers to be underwhelmed with their yieldings. In addition, there were issues surrounding rail lines leading to the fairgrounds. Regardless, Missourians were eager to attend, and the Fair president shared his enthusiasm for the event while noting additional funding would benefit future Fairs to come.

At the inception of the first Fair, two-thirds of Missourians lived in rural areas — a statistic that is drastically different today. In regards to livestock exhibitions and competitions, champions of earlier Fairs differ greatly from today’s champions. This is a direct result of consumers’ preferences shifting to lean meat.

Throughout the years, many aspects of the Missouri State Fair have come and gone. For example, gone are the days where archaeology and philately are attractions at the Fair. However, new additions have been made, like the fine arts competition that offers rewards exceeding $5,000 to artists and craftsmen.

One thing has never changed about the Fair — youth are at the heart of the event. The Fair is an opportunity for young Missourians to prove themselves as the future of agriculture by showing off the animals they work tirelessly to care for. In addition, the competitive nature of the exhibitions teaches the youth new skills and how to be good winners and losers. 

The fairgrounds are now used year-round, which brings in a wider audience for on-site camping and events. In recent years, the fairgrounds have received sizable upgrades and renovations that are worth the trip to Sedalia. 

Gov. Mike Parson and first lady Teresa Parson at the 2020 Missouri State Fair. (OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR)

In typical 2020 fashion, the Fair looked different this year. However, the heart of the event remained the same — Missouri youth. While events were scaled back, young Missourians were still able to bring animals into the show ring with hopes of having a champion. 

“We believed from day one that we could stay true to our agriculture roots and safely host the Missouri State Fair for our youth exhibitors,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “By going back to the basics of the original 1901 Missouri State Fair, we’ve been reminded of the importance of giving our young people the chance to have a hands-on experience and be successful.” 

And they will have the chance to do it all again in August 2021.