A history of the NC State Fair

State Fair, October 12th, 1960 | NC State Archives

For the first time since World War II, and only the third time ever, the NC State Fair — originally planned for October 15-25 at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh — will not be held, due to coronavirus-related concerns. We’re going to miss those corn fritters and fried oreos as much as you, so today we’re looking back at how this yearly event came to be.

Caption: October 1954 | Photo courtesy of NC State Archives

The fair was first held by the State Agricultural Society in 1853, lasted four days, had 4,000+ visitors, and awarded $524 in cash prizes ($17,000 in today’s dollars). It was moved to its current site in west Raleigh (1025 Blue Ridge Road) in 1928, where it’s been held ever since. With 344 acres of total spaceabout half the size of all of downtown Raleigh — the fair plays host to a wide variety of events, including home styling exhibits, livestock shows, grandstand performances, vendor stalls, rides and games + drives serious revenue each year for local businesses, restaurants, and hotels, which typically see sales peaking in October. 

Did you know?

  • 1884 — electricity was first used at the fair
  • 1894 — photography is the most popular exhibition
  • 1900 — the first food booths were introduced to raise funds for churches and civic groups
  • 1905 — President Theodore Roosevelt attends
  • 1910 — first airplane exhibition
  • 1920 — The Agricultural Society elects is first female president, Edith Vanderbilt
  • 1946 — one million free tickets issued to school children
  • 1948 — President Harry Truman attends
  • 1952 — livestock pavilion completed + it boasted the world’s first column-free roof
  • 1954 — WUNC-TV airs its first telecast at the fair’s opening day
  • 1965 — integrated 4H groups compete for the first time
  • 1973 — J.S. Dorton Arena registered as National Historic Place
  • 1976 — President Gerald Ford attends
  • 2003 — The fair celebrates 150 years
  • Click here to view the complete historical timeline

By the numbers:

  • 2019 — 938,000+ visitors over 11 days
  • 2010 — 131,699 visitors set the record for all-time single-day attendance
  • 2010 — Nearly 1.1 million visitors set the record for all-time total attendance
  • On average, the fair sees approximately 75,000 visitors per day
  • For complete attendance charts since 1990, click here
  • To view more photos from the NC state archives, click here

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