Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Great Minnesota Get-Together: A Brief History

If you’re like me, at this time of the year, you have one thing on your mind: the Great Minnesota Get-Together (also known as the Minnesota State Fair).

The fair, located on a massive 322 acres, is a highly popular event, attracting more than 2 million people annually. It employs over 80 full-time year-round individuals, adding 450 seasonal staff members in the summer. It also hires over 2,300 fair-time staff members. In 2018, the fair brought in $57.3 million in revenues. The fair is further estimated to have generated a whopping $268 million in economic impact for the Twin Cities as a whole.

Have you ever wondered how this great event came to be? Its roots trace all the way back to 1854, where it first began as a territorial fair. The fair as it’s known today was first held in 1859, a year after Minnesota was granted statehood. At that time, the fair’s location changed annually, moving between Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, Red Wing, Winona, and Owatonna. It wasn’t until 1885, when the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners donated 210 acres to the State Agricultural Society, that the fair found a permanent home at its present location in St. Paul. Because the fair’s original purpose was to encourage farming in the state of Minnesota, the fair in its early days was comprised of mostly agricultural-related exhibits and competitions.

Over the years, the fair has expanded its activities. 1899 saw the introduction of grandstand shows and fireworks. Theodore Roosevelt spoke at the fair in 1901 and delivered his famous line, "speak softly and carry a big stick." In 1947, the Pronto Pups (and other tasty foods on a stick) were first introduced. The Princess Kay of the Milky Way competition started in 1954. The beloved Sweet Martha’s cookies hit the fair in 1979.

Despite the fair’s expansion in activities and in size, agriculture has consistently remained the primary focus and heart of the fair. There are still several exhibits and competitions dedicated to just that — agriculture. This year, consider stopping by these exhibits or take a moment to watch a competition to pay homage to the fair’s roots and to appreciate how far the fair has come since then.

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