N.C. State Fair Historical Timeline
1853 – State Agricultural Society holds the first State Fair; it was four days long. The largest attendance day had 4,000 fairgoers.
1861-1868 – Fair not held due to Civil War and Reconstruction period.
1869 – Fair reopens.
1873 – Fair moved to a larger site across from N.C. State University.
1877 – N.C. Department of Agriculture created.
1884 – Electricity is first used at the fairgrounds.
1891 – The first Midway ride, the Switchback Railway, is constructed on the fairgrounds.
1894 – Photography is a popular exhibit at the Fair.
1895 – Main attraction is chicken incubators.
1900 – First food booths pop up on the fairgrounds, run by churches and civic groups as fund raisers.
1905 – President Theodore Roosevelt speaks to fairgoers.
1910 – First airplane exhibit.
1916 – Cary United Methodist Church serves its first ham biscuit.
1925 – Agricultural Society disbands and no Fair was held in 1926 and 1927.
1928 – Fair moves to present site. Commercial and Educational buildings are constructed. The Fair
placed under the control of the Department of Agriculture.
1933 – Fair leased to George Hamid for operation on a commercial basis.
1936 – Earl “Lucky” Teeter and his Hell Drivers make first appearance.
1937 – W. Kerr Scott returns control of the State Fair to the Department of Agriculture when he becomes commissioner of agriculture.
1938 – The Fair features 40 high-type shows and rides, replacing the carnival outfit of previous years.
1939 – World of Mirth Shows requires 35 double-length railway cars to bring its mile-long Midway of 50 shows and rides to Raleigh.
1941– Record-breaking crowds attend Fair and exhibits were so numerous that tents had to be erected to accommodate the overflow of livestock.
1942 – Fair closes due to World War II, reopens in 1946.
1946 – One million free tickets issued to North Carolina school children for admittance on Young North Carolinians’ Day.
1948 - James E. Strates provides the Midway at the State Fair. Folk Festival is created as a showcase for traditional North Carolina music and dance.
1949 – Strates’ Shows returns to Fair with Ferris Wheels, merry-go-rounds, animal shows and dare-devil motorcyclists.
1950 – Village of Yesteryear opens. A model of the “Fair of the Future” was displayed in the main exhibit hall. Some features included a coliseum to seat 9,500 (now Dorton Arena) and a football stadium to seat 100,000.
1951 – Fair opens a new Youth Center with two dormitories to accommodate 128 farm boys and girl who exhibited and participated in judging contests.
1952 – State Fair Livestock Pavilion is completed, boasting the world’s first column-free roof. It was renamed the J.S. Dorton Arena in 1961. The cost of Dorton Arena per square foot was estimated at $16.21, which was considered very low at the time.
1953 – The Fair hosts a Centennial Celebration.
1954 – The state’s new educational television station, WUNC-TV, airs its first telecast from the new State Fair Arena (later Dorton Arena) on opening day.
1955 –World’s Championship Rodeo shows nightly with more than 100 head of wild Brahman bulls and bucking broncos.
1956 – Patricia Lee Simonds is named as the State Fair’s first Miss North Carolina Dairy Princess.
1957 – “Know the Meats You Buy” exhibit is one of the most popular, showing the various cuts of pork, beef and lamb.
1958 – J.F. Menius and his staff from State College operated an atomic reactor throughout the Fair as part of a series of exhibits under the theme “Science Education in Action.” A $50,000 exhibit of the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Science was also present.
1960 – Adult admission is $.75 and child admission is $.35.
1961 – Fair first operates for six days.
1963 – The nightly fireworks show is produced as a narrated program covering more than 300 years of North Carolina history from Virginia Dare’s baptism to the building of the new State House.
1964 – James A. Graham appointed Commissioner of Agriculture. The fairgrounds hosted a 14-foot tall mailbox from the Post Office with full daily service to allow fairgoers to send postcards home from the Fair.
1965 – African-American and white 4-H groups compete together at the Fair for the first time.
1967 – The downtown parade on opening day is revived after it was abandoned when the fairgrounds moved closer to the Capitol. The parade was a feature of opening day for 72 years before it was abandoned.
1969 – The Fair is extended to nine days.
1970 – Century Family Farm program launched to honor families who maintain their family farm for 100 years or more. Senior citizens ages 65 and older are admitted free (this policy continues today).
1972 – The Fair sponsors the world’s largest space-related educational exhibit, the Apollo 12 command module; viewed by about 250,000 people.
1973 – J.S. Dorton Arena is placed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
1974 – The Gov. Kerr Scott Building is dedicated. Gov. James E. Holshouser Building, which houses the Village of Yesteryear, is completed.
1975 – Jim Graham Building completed. The Arthur K. Pitzer Heritage Circle acquires its first piece, an authentic 18th century schoolhouse.
1976 – President Gerald Ford speaks to fairgoers.
1978 – Fairgrounds acquires additional 144 acres of land adjacent to the grounds. The fairgrounds total 344 acres. N.C. State Food Science Club serves its first ice cream cone.
1983 – Gov. James B. Hunt, Jr. Horse Complex is opened, housing up to 900 horses.
1985- The Year of Agriculture
1986 – Agriculture Three Times a Day. Fair extends to 10 days.
1987 – Agriculture - New Directions 1987
1988 – Goodness Grows in North Carolina
1989 – The Unforgettable State Fair.
1990 – Harvest of Fun.
1991 – Get a Little Agri-culture. Harness racing returns to the N.C. State Fair after a nearly 20-year absence.
1992 – Discover Agriculture. President George Herbert Walker Bush addresses fairgoers on Oct. 21.
1993 – Got a Good Thing Growing.
1994 – Got a Good Thing Growing.
1995 – No theme. CyberSpace, an exhibit on information technology, begins its six-year run at the Fair.
1996 – There's Magic in the Air. On Sept. 14, President Bill Clinton hosts a meeting in the Jim Graham Building to address workers who were using the fairgrounds as an emergency staging area to clean up the disaster caused by Hurricane Fran.
1997 - Nothing Could be Finer.
1998 - Nothing Could be Finer.
1999 – No theme. A new waterfall is built near Dorton Arena.
2000 - present
2000 – Farm Life. Wild Life. Fair posts an attendance record of 846,724 attendees during Commissioner Graham's last Fair. Tickets and ride books are available online at www.ncstatefair.org. Winn Dixie Stores pay a record $41,000 for the Grand Champion Steer at the Jr. Livestock Auction.
2001 – Wholesome Fun Delivered Fresh Daily. Meg Scott Phipps is elected as Commissioner of Agriculture following Graham’s retirement. Fair hosts North Carolina biotechnology exhibit called BioFrontiers.
2002 – Blue Ribbon Fun. Amusements of America becomes the first new Midway company in more than 53 years. Dorton Arena celebrates its 50th anniversary. It is named a National Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Fair wins Best of Division for Agriculture Programs at the International Association of Fairs and Expos (IAFE).
2003 – 150 Years of Blue Ribbon Fun. Fair celebrates 150th anniversary. Britt Cobb is appointed as the new Commissioner of Agriculture. Red Cross Building is demolished. The Midway selection is chosen by a competitive bid process; Strates Shows wins the contract and makes 54th appearance at the Fair.
2004 – Farm. Fresh. Fun. Midway expanded to the area of the old racetrack. Reithoffer Shows wins Midway contract and makes first appearance at Fair.
2005 – Feed Your Senses. Newly elected Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler and fairgoers "put up the barn" in Heritage Circle, filling the old barn with tobacco and letting it cure throughout the Fair. The first new building on the fairgrounds since the 80s is opened – the Exposition Center is located on the site of the Old Red Cross Lounge, next to the Jim Graham Building. A livestock scholarship fund was created with six scholarships given by four donors. Wade Shows brings 105 – the most rides ever – to the Fair on the newly expanded Midway.
2006 – Feed Your Senses. Powers Great American Midway, based out of Burgaw, wins midway contract and brings more than 100 rides. Fair hosts first Military Appreciation Day, allowing active duty military and their families free admittance to the Fair. The Gov. James G. Martin Building is opened on the new midway.
2007– Seriously Twisted Fun. State Fair shatters attendance records on three days, as well as the overall attendance record with 858,611 total fairgoers. The second Saturday saw 145,955 fairgoers, the most ever in a single day. Powers Great American Midway returns as the midway provider
2008 – Take Time for a Great Time. For the first time in 22 years, officials added a day to the fair, making the this an 11-day State Fair. The Green NC exhibit focusing on environmental education opens for its three-year run. State Fair steps into Social Media with Facebook, Twitter, the Deep Fried blog, YouTube and Flickr channels.
2009 - Whole Lotta Happy. Fairgoers donate a record 222,956 pounds of food on Food Lion Hunger Relief Day, which is donated to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC. The 2009 N.C. State Fair website wins first place in our division in the IAFE Hall of Honor Communications Awards contest.
2010 - Celebrate What's Great! Multiple attendance records are broken and a record-breaking 1,091,887 people attend the fair thanks to great weather and great attractions. The previous Food Lion Hunger Relief Day record is broken, and 247,569 pounds of food are brought by a record 59,088 people.
2011 - Love A Fair. The Village of Yesteryear celebrated its 60th anniversary. The Flower & Garden Show experienced a record number of entries. A new cheese and butter competition category was added.
2012 - Bumper Crop of Fun. The State Fair hosted the Century Farm Family Reunion, honoring farms with 100 years or more of continued family ownership, and introduced the first NC Brewer's Cup Beer Competition, a Kids Kookie Decorating Kontest, and three new livestock shows.
2013 - North Carolina's Homecoming.
2014 - The October Original. The fair's first-ever Military Parade was held on Military Appreciation Day, featuring a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and about 100 reenactors representing North Carolinians involved in military conflicts throughout history.
2015 - Nothing Could Be Finer. The Homegrown Music Fest brought more than 75 North Carolina musical acts to the Waterfall, Bluegrass and Dorton stages. All shows in Dorton were offered for free.
2016 - Nothing Could Be Finer. The State Fair Flyer was introduced as the first permanent ride on the fairgrounds.
At the N.C. State Fair, our mission is to showcase and promote the state's agriculture, agribusiness, arts, crafts and culture through the annual agricultural fair.
The Fair offers the agricultural community a venue to showcase its crops, livestock and new technology. The Fair is also an opportunity for the state's ever-increasing urban population to learn about agriculture through educational and competitive exhibits in the areas of livestock, horticulture, cooking, folk art and much more. More than $600,000 in prize money is awarded each year.
As a self-supporting operation, the Fairgrounds generates revenue by renting out its facilities for events throughout the year and by operating the annual State Fair. The Fairgrounds does not receive appropriated dollars for maintenance, salaries or operations.
We recently completed a long-range master plan for the State Fairgrounds. The plan, which identifies 48 projects to be completed over the next 20 to 30 years or more, includes new exposition space, improved pedestrian safety and traffic flow, an enhanced layout and an RV campground. Read more about the N.C. State Fairgrounds Master Plan.
The North Carolina State Fair is the largest 11-day event in North Carolina, attracting more than 800,000 attendees. The Fair host many diverse musical acts, numerous food vendors, games booths and carnival rides, commercial and agricultural exhibitors. The Fair is managed and produced by the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services and is consistently ranked among the top 25 fairs in North America.
2016 N.C. State Fair, October 13-23. This year’s theme is "Nothing Could be Finer." A bumper crop is a slang term to describe an exceptional harvest. The Midway provider is Powers Great American Midways.
Beyond the bright lights of the Midway, however, the N.C. State Fair has focused on celebrating our state’s agricultural heritage. In 1853, the State Agricultural Society held the first State Fair; it was four days long and the largest attendance day had 4,000 fairgoers. Though the first N.C. State Fair took place 158 years ago, the 2011 Fair will actually only be the 144th staging of the event. Over the past 158 years, the State Fair has endured a few hiatuses because of the Civil War, World War II and changes in operators. For example, after the State Agricultural Society disbanded in 1925 the fair wasn’t held in 1926 or ’27. The Fair was placed under the control of the Department of Agriculture in 1928 and moved to its present site at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.
Today, the State Fair has become a traditional fall-time event that aims to educate all North Carolinians about the importance of agriculture to our heritage and our economy. Our mission is to showcase and promote the state's agriculture, agribusiness, arts, crafts and culture through the annual agricultural fair.
The Fair offers the agricultural community a venue to showcase its crops, livestock and new technology. The Fair is also an opportunity for the state's ever-increasing urban population to learn about agriculture through educational and competitive exhibits in the areas of livestock, horticulture, cooking, folk art and much more. More than $600,000 in prize money is awarded each year to competitive exhibitors.
The NC State Fairgrounds complex consists of 344 acres of land. The developed portion has multi-purpose building space ranging from 2,500 to 100,000 square feet (a total of 398,000 square feet of enclosed space), as well as full service RV overnight access, and numerous unique grounds areas which are available for private and public events. The Fairgrounds is also home of the state's largest indoor flea market, the Raleigh Flea Market which operates every Saturday and Sunday except during the month of October due to the State Fair.
Free parking is offered for year-round events. Many events offer free admission. The Fairgrounds offers free or discounted rental rates to agricultural organizations.
From sporting event to trade shows, wedding receptions to camping facilities, the N.C. State Fairgrounds hosts a wide variety of events, conferences and exhibits every year. Because of the roomy facilities, great location in west Raleigh, excellent on-site parking and award-winning landscape, the Fairgrounds is a popular rental spot. Of the more than 600 public and private events produced year round at a State Fair facility, several have attendance exceeding 20,000 per event. To name a few, the Southern Farm Show, International Auto Expo, Dixie Deer Classic, Kids Exchange Consignment Sale, Greek Festival and La Fiesta del Pueblo.
As a self-supporting operation, the Fairgrounds generates revenue by renting out its facilities for events throughout the year and by operating the annual State Fair. The Fairgrounds does not receive appropriated dollars for maintenance, salaries or operations. We recently completed a long-range master plan for the State Fairgrounds. The plan, which identifies 48 projects to be completed over the next 20 to 30 years or more, includes new exposition space, improved pedestrian safety and traffic flow, an enhanced layout and additional on-site parking.
In 2015, more than 3 million people attended events held at the NC State Fairgrounds complex.