The first Illinois State Fair opened on October 11, 1853 with an admission of 25 cents. The attractions included cattle, horses, and sheep venues, among displays of reapers, mowers, farming tools, and a variety of corn planters. On the third day, over 15,000 people attended. The fair was a success, netting $853 in profits with $1500 in premiums paid out to prize-winning exhibits. There were a total of 765 entries in all areas.
For the next 40 years, the Illinois State Fair was hosted by twelve different cities including Freeport, Chicago, Alton and Olney. It settled permanently in Springfield in 1894. During World War II, from 1941 to 1945, no fairs were held. During this time the fairgrounds were used as a supply base for the Army Air Force.
After the war, the major agricultural fairs in the United States underwent a subtle transition. At that time agriculture became more mechanized, more efficient, with bigger farms and greater production per acre while the size of the rural population was shrinking and the rural youth migrating to urban centers. Major fairs, Illinois included, began increasing exhibits on modern living, on industry and labor, on education and entertainment for the general public.
In 1965 the Illinois Legislature passed an act creating the Illinois State Fair Agency. The main purpose of the Agency remained what had been the goal of the Fair throughout its history: to promote improved methods of agriculture, encourage increased yields and the raising of improved breeds of livestock, and to acquaint farmers with the latest implements and machinery. The Fair was also charged with exhibiting and promoting the activities of Illinois in the fields of industry, labor and education.
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