Trying to imagine a State Fair without food makes my stomach growl

credit: Minnesota Historical Society

It's no surprise that most of us go to Minnesota's State Fair every year for the food. 

There are 226 different things to try this year, but imagine a time when that number was zero. No food, no drinks. Nothing. It's true though, and not just at one Fair but for the first 30 years or so.

Well according to the State Fair food and beverage director, Dennis Larson,  in the 1800s "most of the people coming to the fair were farmers. They were there to learn about the newest methods and equipment and appreciate the prize-winning livestock and produce." 

But they were not there to spend money, "People would pack a lunch and bring it," Larson said. "They were more frugal at that time and didn't have disposable income."   

Another factor was that in its first few decades the State Fair moved around to a different Minnesota town every year. It settled down just north of St. Paul in 1885 but it took another 12 years before food vendors arrived at the fairgrounds. 

credit: Minnesota Historical Society

Once it had a permanent location, some of the Fair's neighbors recognized a way they could help people and raise some money.

Women at the nearby Hamline United Methodist heard that State Fair workers were so busy they weren't able to get away for lunch. So in August of 1897 these church ladies fixed up some sandwiches and pots of coffee and brought them to the fairgrounds.

The State Fair has only been cancelled a handful of times. But it happened twice in a row in the 1940s, first because of the gas shortage during World War II, then because of a polio epidemic. 

When Minnesotans returned to the fairgrounds in 1947 something was different: Pronto Pups had arrived. And the Fair's food landscape would never be the same.  

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

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