NC State Fair: Nothing could be finer!

This year’s theme is for the NC State Fair, running through today, 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.

Below is a timeline of fair events since its inception in 1853:


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 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.

A view of the midway from a bridge over the pond. view of the midway from a bridge over the pond.

An artist painting in The Village of Yesteryear. artist painting in The Village of Yesteryear.

GALOT Motorsports driver John Strickland pulls the weight sled down the track for a first place wining pull in his division of 397.980. Motorsports driver John Strickland pulls the weight sled down the track for a first place wining pull in his division of 397.980.

A large crowd fills the midway last Sunday, another record-breaking crowd for the fair. large crowd fills the midway last Sunday, another record-breaking crowd for the fair.

One of the favorite fair attractions is the ferris wheel, and this one is said to be the largest portable Ferris Wheel in the world. of the favorite fair attractions is the ferris wheel, and this one is said to be the largest portable Ferris Wheel in the world.

The ‘Sky Flyer,’ a now permanent attraction at the fairgrounds. ‘Sky Flyer,’ a now permanent attraction at the fairgrounds.

Basket-weaving in the Yesteryear Building is a favorite exhibit. in the Yesteryear Building is a favorite exhibit.

A cow and her calf, one of the many aspects of agriculture life you can see at the NC State Fair every year. cow and her calf, one of the many aspects of agriculture life you can see at the NC State Fair every year.

A giant pumpkin entry for largest pumpkin. The pumpkin weighed 1,090 lbs.! giant pumpkin entry for largest pumpkin. The pumpkin weighed 1,090 lbs.!
A photo tour of this year’s fair