History Of The County Fair

By Karen Harris
(Alex Camara/Europa Press via Getty Images)

As late summer rolls around, county fair season is in full swing. It's a tradition as popular in rural America as the country music concerts and elephant ears you can enjoy there, and it all started with one man.

The First County Fair

In medieval Europe, a "fair" was usually a religious gathering, but modern fairs are more about farming. The first U.S. county fair, which was held in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1807, was basically just a sheep shearing demonstration and contest. It was the brainchild of sheep farmer Elkanah Watson, who simply wanted to promote better farming practices. Bolstered by its success, Watson began developing agricultural fairs that included contests and activities for the whole family.

At the heart of county fairs, in Watson's day and today, are livestock shows, where judges inspect animals presented by local farmers for overall quality and award prizes to those with the best livestock. The friendly competition became wildly popular with the agricultural community of Massachusetts.