Take a look at the State Fair -- and its 100-plus-year history

Friday, September 18, 2015

The 2015 Oklahoma State Fair has opened, and it’s time to visit and get your fill of the food, entertainment, rides and other spectacles that you enjoy every year.

But while we, too, at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber are enjoying the present-day fair , we’ve been looking back in time as well. We celebrated our 125th year in 2014, and that milestone sent us diving into our own archives for some OKC history treasure.

The Oklahoma State Fair has been one of those treasures since 1907. And the Chamber had a key role in starting it. Here’s how it all began:

By 1907 Oklahoma City had turned into the industry hub of the state and new residents were moving in quickly. According to “A History of the State Fair of Oklahoma,” a 1994 book by Bob L. Blackburn and Paul B. Strasbaugh, the city’s population had grown from 4,151 in 1890 to nearly 32,500 by 1907; it would double again, to 64,205, three years later.

At that time, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce had recently been renamed from being called the Board of Trade and more informally, the Commercial Club, and its leaders had big plans for the city – campaigning for better roads and bridges and for rail expansions and promoting Oklahoma City outside the region, among many other initiatives.

Recruiting conventions was one of the Chamber’s big priorities, as it is today, so the Chamber listened in 1907 when the Farmers National Congress expressed an interest in January to hold its convention in the city and requested a fall fair to showcase the state’s agriculture achievements.

The Chamber immediately started gathering business leaders to explore the formation of a state fair association. (Among early-day Fair and Chamber supporters were men who had an impact on the city’s history and whose last names are still familiar to Oklahoma City residents today – Classen, Colcord, Overholser and Putnam, for starters.) By Jan. 21, 1907, the State Fair Association of Oklahoma had been chartered.

And on Oct. 5, the month before Oklahoma became a state, the fair opened.

Crowd estimates for the State Fair’s first year indicated that the fair lured more than 75,000 people with horse racing, crop and livestock contests offering good prize money, merchandise booths, an early midway and other attractions and entertainment.

By 1921 the Oklahoma State Fair had grown and attracted 203,400 people, making it the area’s largest event, according to a Chamber newsletter from that year. It is still one of the region’s largest events and annually draws more than one million visitors.

Also on the list of significant convention and visitors’ events that year were the rodeo, the Oklahoma Cleaners and Dyers, Wichita Area Council, Oklahoma Baptists, I.O.O.F. Grand Lodge, Rebekah State Assembly and the M.E. Church Conference.

Writing in the same newsletter, the Chamber also listed the conventions scheduled for 1922: the Oklahoma Life Underwriters; Retail Clothiers; YWCA State Convention; YMCA State Convention; Made in Oklahoma City event; A.B.O. of Red, Red Rose; Teachers Association; the Masonic Grand Lodge.

And, of course, the Oklahoma State Fair.

It was THE event to see in 1907. Don’t miss it this year either. It’s going on through Sept. 27. Here's the schedule.