Washington State Fair History
In 1900, the community had no idea the tradition which had begun, nor could they have imagined the treasured memories each decade would bring...
1900 - 1909
- In June 1900, a group of local businessmen, farmers and residents joined together to discuss the idea of a fair in the Puyallup Valley area.
- The board of directors was formed as the governing body of the "Valley Fair", and they decided the purpose of the Valley Fair Association was to advance the interests of agricultural, horticultural, dairying, stock raising, mining, and manufacturing industries of the Puyallup Valley.
- Selling shares of stock provided the capital to begin the Puyallup Fair. The dates of the first Fair were October 4-6, 1900. It was located on a vacant lot just west of where Pioneer Park is now located.
- Admission to the first annual "Valley Fair" was $1 per family for all three days.
- An opening in the 10-foot fence which surrounded the Fair acted as the first main gate. Sheds were built to house exhibits etc. with the left-over wood from building the fence.
- Inside, a tent was raised to protect produce, "ladies work," and livestock. Horses and cows were tethered to a nearby fence.
- The second Fair was extended one day longer than the first Fair. It was held on September 14-17, 1901. For this fair, a more adequate 10-acre lot was purchased on the southwest corner of 9th Avenue S.W. and Meridian South. At the Fair, the most popular entertainment was horse racing. This is the reason why the Fair was built around the race track (used from 1901-1977). People came from everywhere just to see their favorite horse win at the Fair.
- Parking lots were also established in 1902. With the invention of the automobile, people were traveling from all over to come to the Fair. Parking a buggy or automobile cost 25 cents.
- In 1905, the Fair became a six-day event.
- Admissions brought in $5,500 in 1908. Since more people were coming to the Fair, trains were making special trips from Tacoma and Seattle directly to the Fair.
1910 - 1919
- In 1910, the Fair purchased five more acres of land and added additional box seats to the grandstand seating.
- Tacoma merchants offered their support to the Fair by closing their stores on Tacoma Day.
- The Puyallup Merchants Association also lent their support by closing their stores in the afternoons.
- In 1913, the "Valley Fair" was re-named The Western Washington Fair Association.
- Special attractions during this decade were: horse racing, auto polo (this is when Ford Model T's toss a rubber ball between them pushing it toward a goal), vaudeville acts, a three-ring circus, high wire acts, log rolling, and fiddler contests.
- In 1914, a new grandstand was built at a cost of $3,500.
- In 1915, Western Washington Fairgoers tasted their first Fisher Scones.
- Since World War I caused a drain on society, the 1917 Fair did not open until mid-October.
- After the war, the Fair became even more prosperous. By 1919, the Fair's attendance was up to 75,000 people, and the Fair was held on 30 acres.
1920 - 1929
- In the '20s, the main attractions for the seven-day show included: chariot racing, daredevil horse riding, 15 acres of exhibits, new horse stables, and racing horses.
- In 1922, attendance was at a record high of 130,000.
- Entertainment varied during this time. Native Americans who lived in tepees for the duration of the fair (as they also did in 1917) offered ponies for racing, presented war dances, held parades, and told stories of early Indian history in the Northwest. In 1925, 50 Umatilla, Yakima, and Nez Perce were represented at the Fair.
- Many food concessions began in the '20s.
- Earl Douglas brought in the first carousel in 1923 on a horse-drawn wagon base, steam powered and featuring a Wurlitzer band organ. Today, this antique carousel has been restored and is now located in its own building in front of the Exposition Hall (now valued at $1.3 million dollars).
1930 - 1939
- Even though the Great Depression was going on, people didn't let it affect the Fair's festivities.
- By the mid-30's, the rides were much more advanced than the carnivals in the past.
- The breathtaking rides included a merry-go-round, roller coaster, Ferris wheels, and kiddie rides. Most of the rides were operated by gasoline engines and later electric storage batteries.
- Another key feature at the Fair in the '30s was the Dance Hall which is now located on Grand Ave. and Premium Blvd. Each dance was five cents and when the dance was through, a braided rope gathered all of the dancers and led them out of the hall through the exit.
- The grandstand was expanded again in 1938 to accommodate the large audiences the Fair was attracting. In 1939, the Hobby Hall and Art Gallery were built, adding more space for more exhibiters.
- Attendance by the late '30s was close to 400,000.
1940 - 1949
- Even though the Puyallup Fair survived the first World War, the Fair directors had no choice but to close the Fair during World War II.
- Shortly after the 1941 Fair, the federal government took over the Fairgrounds.
- An army unit occupied the grounds from December 1942 to March 1943. During the month of May in 1943 the Fairgrounds became a relocation center for Japanese-Americans. Barbed wire fences and search lights surrounded the Fairgrounds. The Fairgrounds were renamed the Puyallup Assembly Center and was a temporary shelter for 7,390 Japanese-Americans. In September of 1943, the Japanese-Americans were sent to other locations, and the camp was torn down. Then, the Fairgrounds were occupied by the U.S. Army 943rd Signal Service Battalion until they were transferred to Fort Lewis in December. From this time until the end of World War II, the Fairgrounds remained closed.
- It took a lot of patience, cleaning-up, and hard work to get the Fair ready to open again. The first postwar Fair took place in September of 1946. People were eager to get out and enjoy themselves again in the family atmosphere that the Fair provided. As a result, the Fair set the record for a single day's attendance at 100,000 people in 1946.
1950 - 1959
- The roller coaster ride was thirty-five cents.
- Because of the war recession, the Fair didn't celebrate its 50th anniversary until 1953. The Anniversary Fair opened in September of 1953. Many changes had occurred, such as a new Education Building, and the new ride, the Loop-O-Plane.
- In 1954, the grandstand was rebuilt. It was made of steel and concrete, and its cost was half a million hard-earned dollars.
- In 1955, the mezzanine of the new grandstand became the headquarters for the International Photo Salon.
- A bigger Ferris wheel was added in 1955 standing 55'.
- In 1956, a 15-foot fountain was the added attraction in the Sports and Wildlife Building.
1960 - 1969
- Bingo, lotteries, and other non-skill games for prizes were banned from the 1969 Fair. It was found to not be in keeping with the Puyallup Fair's purpose. Carnival (gambling) games were illegal.
- Some popular attractions at the Fair in the '60s were: The Flying Wallendas (a famous aerialist family), Circus Acts, Fred Smart's Fireworks Show (began in 1961), Osmond Family Singers (1966), and Frank Sinatra Jr.
- The new Flag Plaza and new Display Building were exciting changes to the Fairgrounds in 1969.
1970 - 1979
- Early Sunday morning on June 14, 1970, the Fair had its one and only fire. Many restaurants, the grandstand, part of the roller coaster, the Art and Floral Buildings, and some concessions were destroyed or damaged. The loss was estimated at $1.25 million and only $803,000 was covered by insurance.
- The 1970 Fair opened on schedule. Many concessions were placed in tents and the fire took its toll on the rides. Rides lost in the fire were the Old Mill, Roll-O-Plane, and the Pretzel (an electric car ride.)
- Attendance was soaring and by 1975 the Western Washington Fair ranked the tenth largest Fair in North America.
- Paving the Fair, and filling the roads with gravel was a big project.
- Horse racing at the Fair ended with the 1977 Fair. It was a popular event for a quarter of a century, yet there were problems with the track being too muddy.
- In 1978, the Fair was expanded from a 10-day fair to a 17-day fair. At this time, the Fair was occupying 46 acres.
1980 - 1989
- In attendance, the numbers fluctuated between 1.1 and 1.2 million until 1989 where it jumped to 1.3 million.
- The skyride was purchased from the Seattle Center in installed 1980.
- The Howdy Tour was also initiated in the early '80s. (This features specialized classroom tours focusing on animals and agriculture.)
- Fair rides became more extensive. By the late '80s, the Fair had 30+ kiddie rides, and were expanding with a steel roller coaster and higher-speed rides.
- In 1982, the new two-story administration building was built to replace the old one built in 1958. This construction added the Exposition Hall, Ticket Sales Building, and a new Main Gate.
- Many big name entertainers performed at the Fair in the '80s, which attracted even more people. Many of the performers returned year after year to entertain Fairgoers of all ages.
- In 1985, the American Goat Association held their first-ever show at any fair at the Puyallup Fair.
- The Fair grew into 125 acres.
1990 - 1999
- As a result of the attendance peak in 1991 (1,414,487), the Fair was the sixth largest fair in the United States.
- For the 1992 Fair, a $13+ million dollar Fairgrounds renovation project was completed in the south end of the facilities. New highlights included:
- Blue Gate/Blue Gate Stage
- Largest outdoor concert stage in the Pacific Northwest
- Barns: Draft Horse, 4-H Horse, Rabbit, and Poultry
- W.H. Paulhamus Arena, 2000 seats
- The Puyallup Fair Farm (petting farm)
- 100-foot wide boulevards
- Increased landscaping and park-like atmosphere
- In 1990, The Puyallup Fair held its first annual Spring Fair on April 20-22. For a few years it was a four-day event, then went back to three days.
- In 1991, the Puyallup Fair was the first major fair in the United States to feature bungee jumping. 2,055 Fairgoers jumped from the crane at the Fair.
- Music great, Frank Sinatra was the opening day headliner on the 1993 grandstand stage. He sang to a sold-out crowd.
- In 1998 three children became infected with the E.coli 0157:H7 bacteria. The Center for Disease Control, Atlanta, could never determine the source of the bacteria. This brought headline news to the Fair in its last week, creating the need for crisis management and a food safety recovery plan. The Fair has become a strong health safety education advocate.
- The rides have become even more sophisticated. In 1999 the Extreme Scream thrill ride, a 20-story attraction was added. The permanent ride cost over $2 million. There are approximately 70 rides and one-third of them are directed to attract the Fair's youngest crowd.
- The decade finished with an attendance of 1,238,029, making it the fifth highest attended fair in the country.
- The Fair covers 160 acres.
2000 - 2009
- The Puyallup Fair celebrated it's the 100th anniversary of its start, Sept 8-24. Over 1.3 million guests made the Fair a tradition during the centennial celebration.
- The new century marked the perfect time to celebrate 100 years since the Puyallup Fair first started. It was a celebration of the century, with 1,312,332 guests, our eighth highest attendance.
- The cattle drive down Puyallup’s Meridian Street, followed by the Puyallup Fair Western Rodeo Parade was introduced in 2000. In the early days, cowboys would unload cattle from the train cars, and drive them to the Fair in a similar manner.
- A joint project with the City of Puyallup was completed in time for the 2005 Puyallup Fair. A connecting street on the west side of the facility was built, cutting through what was previously parking lots. Fairview Drive is the name of the new road.
- ShowPlex made its debut at the 2005 Fair. The 122,000+ square foot exhibition facility was designed for both fairtime use, as well as the growing interim event use.
- The former Kiddyland ride area was redesigned and introduced at the 2006 Puyallup Fair. Renamed SillyVille, it boasts nearly three times the space of Kiddyland, totaling more than five acres. A train station was built to house the new C.P. Huntington train. 2007 marked the completion of the dinosaur-themed tunnel to complement the train ride in SillyVille.
2010 - Current
- The new thrill ride, Vertigo, was a part of the 2011 Puyallup Fair.
- Fair Scones celebrated their 100th Anniversary and served their 100 millionth scone during the 2011 Puyallup Fair.
The Washington State Fair is a private, non-profit organization which exists for only one reason, and that is to please the Fair goer. The Fair puts smiles on people's faces, it educates people of all ages, and most of all, it creates memories for everyone.
"Do the Puyallup" and celebrate the tradition - and the new century!
Information for this piece was taken from the illustrated history book, "Doin' the Puyallup." The book was written and researched by Val Dumond and designed by Rachael Costner.