5 Biggest State Fairs in America

Where can you fill your heart’s desire of livestock, deep-fried comfort food, and roller coasters all in one place? Look no farther than America's grand old state fairs. Part guilty gluttonous pleasure, part family fun, state fairs are a timeless tradition throughout the country every summer and fall. However, some states take it more seriously than others. These are the five largest state fairs in the United States.

5. Tulsa State Fair

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The fifth-largest state fair in the U.S. started as a country street fair and outdoes the official state fair of its home, Oklahoma. Tulsa County hosted its street fair starting in the 1890s and continued in its tradition until 1903 when it was organized as the Tulsa County Free Fair. Things picked up in 1913 with the International Dry Farming Congress, attracting agriculturists from around the world.

Fast forward to present day: The fair draws record crowds, numbering 1.15 million in 2017, the same year that Def Leppard held a concert on the grounds. The fair runs for 11 days starting on the fourth Thursday after Labor Day, and its largest facility is the River Spirit Expo center, measuring 448,000 square feet.

4. The Great New York State Fair

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The fourth largest state fair in the U.S. also holds the distinction of being the oldest. The first state fair in U.S. history was held in 1841 in Syracuse, New York, attended by around 10,000 to 15,000. By 1890, the fairgrounds found itself a permanent home when the Syracuse Land Company donated 100 acres of land in Gedes to the Agricultural Society.

Since then, the event and venue have undergone plenty of transformation, most recently with a 2015 initiative by governor Cuomo to transform the fairgrounds to the tune of $50 million. Some of the traditional highlights include piglet races and butter sculptures, but let us not forget the fine culinary treats, including beef sundaes. Shocking as it may sound, the beef sundae is actually a bowl of mashed potatoes, roast beef, gravy, and cheddar cheese with a cherry on top. The fair begins on the third or fourth Wednesday in August and runs until Labor Day.

3. The Big E

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Not to be confused with the late rapper, the Big E is formally known as the Eastern States Exposition. The fair, held in West Springfield, Massachusetts, includes all the New England states: Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The Eastern States Exposition was founded in 1916 to promote agriculture and educate young people with vocational skills, and it continues as a massive statewide fair. One of the major attractions at the fairgrounds is The Avenue of the States, which features life-size replicas of the original state houses from each New England State.

2. Minnesota State Fair

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“The Great Minnesota Get-Together” is the largest state fair by average daily attendance. Total attendance in 2018 was 2.05 million, with a record daily attendance of 270,426. The event traces its history farther back than the state of Minnesota itself, as it originated as a territorial fair, preceding statehood. Its early years took a slight detour in the midst of the Civil War, but the tradition survived and continues as one the state’s largest tourist attractions. As far as food goes, the fair is said to be the birthplace of deep-fried Twinkies on a stick and boasts 80 other variants of stick-based foods.

1. State Fair of Texas

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Everything is bigger in Texas, and the state fair is no exception. The State Fair of Texas is the largest and most acclaimed state fair in the U.S. The festivities begin on the last Friday of September, starting things off with the annual Friday parade in downtown Dallas surrounding the Big Tex mascot. In addition to the parade and auto show, college football has also been a traditional centerpiece with the OU-Texas game hosting the traditional “Red River Rivalry” between Oklahoma and Texas. In addition to being one of the state’s prided traditions, it’s also a massive enterprise. A 2016 study found that the fair generates $50 million for the area economy. In 2017, the fair saw 2.25 million attendees.

Cover image credit: shcherbak volodymyr / iStock

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