The first Minnesota State Fair took place in 1855. Of course, back then it wasn't a state fair, since Minnesota wasn't yet a state. Rather, it was a territorial fair, hosted by the Minnesota Territorial Agricultural Society. This group had formed the year prior, with the mission of promoting the territory's agriculture by presenting an annual fair. For the first 30 years of the Fair, the location bounced around the state, taking place in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, Red Wing, Winona or Owatonna, depending on the year.

Minnesota was granted statehood in 1858, and the first State Fair was held the following year. Though both Minneapolis and St. Paul vied to become the permanent home of the State Fair throughout the 1870s and early 80s, it wasn't until 1885, when Ramsey County donated 210 acres to the state, for use by the Agricultural Society, that the Fair finally had a permanent dwelling place. Over time, the footprint of the fairgrounds expanded to its current 322 acres.

Agricultural Roots

The annual State Fair became a gathering place for farmers and ranchers to showcase their crop and livestock production, as well as a place for potential state residents to learn about the agricultural opportunities available throughout the state. "It was a way to show that Minnesota was a place that you could come and set roots down and be able to farm this land," says Keri Huber, archivist at the State Fair.

"It was a place to come and learn about Minnesota. But it was also, which it still is today, an exchange of ideas," adds Jill Nathe, deputy general manager of agriculture and competition at the State Fair. "It was really a coming together to show off and showcase their animals, their equipment, their other goods … Both then and now, that's definitely a huge piece of it."

Naturally, these opportunities attracted a multitude of county Farm Bureau members. Since forming in 1919, the Minnesota Farm Bureau (MFBF) developed a strong presence at the Fair.

In 1930, the organization took over running a tourist camp during the Fair. This campground, located within the fairgrounds, was a free place to stay for farm families that traveled in from across the state. All they had to do was bring camping equipment, and MFBF volunteers would see to the rest. Amenities at the campsite included running water, electricity and gas stoves for cooking. It was immediately popular, with nearly all 400 spots occupied opening night. This campsite remained in operation under MFBF management until the 1950s. But even after that, the organization's presence remained strong.

From 1920–1933, there were official Farm Bureau Days at the Fair, and in 1939 the MFBF's cabin was built as a gathering and connection place during the Fair. The mid-century saw MFBF-hosted events such as a custard pie-baking contest. And in 1993, the MFBF became a co-sponsor along with the State Fair in honoring Century Farms (a program that began in 1976); in 2008, they also began honoring Sesquicentennial Farms.

In Strong Roots, the commemorative book for the MFBF's 90th anniversary, former president Al Christopherson is quoted as saying, "As we started the research on the early days of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, it was the 'Great State Fair' that pulled our founders together. First, because of the natural timing lull between duties in the field; second, to bring their commodities, livestock, seed, inventions, crafts and garden produce in for judging at a public exhibition; and maybe most importantly, as the only social vacation that a family could share. Many of these traditions are the same today."

These exhibition opportunities, available through 4-H, FFA and open class competitions, have existed since the early days of the State Fair. For many farm families, competing and showing at the Fair become an annual multigenerational tradition.

“The 4-H families and our open class show families—they set aside time and money,” Nathe says. “Many of them have jobs off the farm, so coming in the middle of the week for four days, or even for that long weekend to be here with their animals or with their kids showing their animals—it is the family vacation.”

Educating the Public

But it’s not just 4-H and farm families that have made a trip to the State Fair an annual tradition. Last year, 1.8 million people attended the 12-day Fair. And whether they’re setting out to interact with agriculture or not during their visit, the opportunity to rub shoulders with farmers, livestock and crops is baked into the experience, offering an inherent touchpoint with agriculture.

“Simply being able to stroll through a barn—where else can you walk in and look at 800 head of cattle? To me, it’s an awe-inspiring moment,” Nathe says. “For a lot of folks, you’re never going to get that close and have that experience and see that these [farmers] aren’t much different than you or I.”

“A lot of times you’re having fun, not necessarily knowing that you’re learning something at the same time, which is just great,” Huber adds.

Of course, over the years, the Great Minnesota Get-Together has changed. There’s a lot more to the Fair than agriculture. The founders likely couldn’t have guessed that Fair foods would be one of the biggest draws and that instead of horse races packing the Grandstand, it’s internationally renowned musical artists. But the heart of it remains the same.

“Has it evolved? Absolutely. Society has changed. Our space around our Fair has changed,” Nathe says. “As society has changed and fewer folks are on farms, the Fair has evolved, too, to both hang on to those agricultural roots and showcase the best in Minnesota. At the same time, now we get a chance to educate folks that aren’t as involved in agriculture … That’s one of the ways that we’re still focused on that mission.”

From Field to Fair

Jerry Untiedt, a Wright County Farm Bureau member, founded Untiedt's Vegetable Farm in 1971 when he and his wife moved to Waverly, Minnesota. They bought "a small piece of land" where he grew specialty crops that he sold at farmers markets. Over time, the farm grew.

Today, it has 12 full-time employees (including two of Untiedt's daughters, one son-in-law and one grandson), and around 200 seasonal employees. They sell a variety of seasonal flowers, fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and their own vegetable stands and greenhouses around the Twin Cities. They also wholesale products to some local grocery stores. But probably Untiedt's biggest claim to fame is that he is the exclusive grower for Brad Ribar's famous Corn Roast booth at the Minnesota State Fair, a gig he's had for about 20 years.

So, how does all that corn make it's way to the State Fair each year? Untiedt's team begins planting in May, meticulously planning out how many acres to plant per day to have a perfect yield throughout the State Fair.

Every day during the Fair's 12-day run, Untiedt's team heads out to the fields to hand-pick each ear of corn they deliver to the Fair.  "Most sweet corn these days has two ears on a stock," Untiedt says. "We only pick the premium ear, which obviously decreases the yield, but increases the quality. And doing it by hand, each ear should be a premium product."

The corn is loaded up in the evening to be driven to St. Paul and delivered to the fairgrounds after midnight. The following day, ears of corn are roasted, shucked, dipped in butter and sold for fairgoers enjoyment and consumption, before finishing their lifecycle in the nearby compost bin.

Immediately following the Fair, Untiedt's team crunches the numbers on that year's demand data to begin planning for the following year.

"It still is enjoyable for us to do it after all these years, even though it's a tremendously large amount of work," he says.

Faces behind the Fair

Meet the Member: Kent Thiesse
This summer marks the 45th year that Kent Thiesse, Blue Earth County Farm Bureau member and former U of M Extension educator, has been the coordinator of the Minnesota State Fair Beef Show. He’s also been on the State Fair 4-H Auction committee since the late 80s, where he’s helped hand out over $1.2 million in premiums. Each year, the committee also allocates 20% of the auction proceeds to a fund that supports a variety of 4-H educational activities and scholarships. Thanks to donor matches, they’ve given out 598 scholarships totaling $955,000 since starting the program in 1995.

“I’ve always felt that my involvement in 4-H did a lot for me,” Thiesse says. “I've seen so many young people over the years who have developed through 4-H and FFA, and they've gone on to great careers and given back. That's why I continue to be involved and do what I do.”

Meet the Member: Gail Johnson
Despite being retired from teaching, Gail Johnson stays plenty busy. She and her husband run a cow-calf operation, plus she’s on the Hennepin County Farm Bureau board, is a Minnesota Cattle Women member, a Northern States South Devon Association director and Hennepin County Fair vice president. In 2016, she was elected to the Minnesota State Fair Board of Managers. During the 12-day run of the Fair, board members are present every day for events, awards, interviews and more. (Fun fact: Johnson has been to the Minnesota State Fair every year but one in her lifetime.)

“It is such an honor and a privilege to serve on the Minnesota State Fair Board and to continue the legacy that has been brought forth by our predecessors,” Johnson says. “They have done so many wonderful things. Our goal as a board, and mine personally, is to continue to improve the Fair, build upon what has already been done and take it into the future.”

Must-See Agricultural Buildings

4-H Building: Built by the WPA in 1938 and completed in 1940, this building houses thousands of youth each summer.
Agriculture Horticulture Building: Opened in 1947, this is the hub for ag-hort competitions, exhibits, demonstrations and concessions.
MFBF Building: Completely updated in 2021, the MFBF cabin is a place for members to gather and connect throughout the State Fair.

Century and Sesquicentennial Farms

In partnership with the Minnesota State Fair, the Minnesota Farm Bureau was proud to honor 97 recipients with Century Farm honors this year. This award recognizes families for over 100 years of continuous family ownership of their farm. Additionally, MFBF recognized 44 farm families with Sesquicentennial status, marking 150 years of continuous family ownership. Click here to see the complete list of recipients for this year, and to see past recipients of both programs.

Past & Present

Let's look back at memorable moments in Fair history.

1854: Minnesota Territorial Agricultural Society (the governing body of the fair) was founded
1855: First territorial fair, held in Minneapolis
1858: Minnesota admitted to the Union (no fair due to lack of funds)
1859: First State Fair, held in Minneapolis
1885: First year at present fairgrounds
1897: Hamline Church Dining Hall opens (today, it’s the longest-running food concession at the Fair)
1901: U.S. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt delivered his famous “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick” speech at the fair
1904: First carnival midway
1906: Legendary horse Dan Patch set the world record time of 1:55 for one mile at the Grandstand
1907: 40 acres of land were purchased north of the fairgrounds
1920: Cattle Barn constructed
1943: Livestock buildings and 50 acres surrounding them were taken over by the government for an airplane propeller plant; livestock, horse and poultry shows were suspended
1947: The Pronto Pup made its debut, the first food-on-a-stick
1948: Future Farmers of America (FFA) starts exhibiting livestock at the Fair.
1954: First statewide Princess Kay of the Milky Way contest
1964: Skyride built
1965: Space Tower built; First year Princess Kay and her court carved in butter
1966: Fairchild debuted as the State Fair mascot
1975: Fair extends to 12 days, ending Labor Day
2001: SkyGlider constructed
2020: State Fair canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic; first Minnesota State Fair Food Parade and online Minnesota State Fair: At-Home Edition held

State Fair Food Fast Facts

See what it takes for farmers, exhibitors and concessionaires to keep fairgoers fed, entertained and educated each summer.

  • The State Fairgrounds encompasses 322 acres.
  • Nearly 500 foods are available at 300 different food concessions at the Fair.
  • Deep-fried candy bars, hot dish, spaghetti and meatballs, key lime pie, bacon, walleye, Pronto Pups and pork chops are just a few of the 80+ foods-on-a-stick available throughout the fairgrounds.
  • The corn at the Corn Roast booth is roasted at 575 degrees.
  • The Corn Roast booth go through 25,000 ears of corn each day of the State Fair and 4,000 pounds of butter each year.
  • 25 acres of corn are sold at the Corn Roast booth each Fair.
  • The three largest French fry vendors—Fresh French Fries’ two locations and World’s Greatest French Fries—use about 145 tons of potatoes each year. (This is the approximate weight of 290 cows.)
  • Pronto Pups use approximately 70 tons of batter each Fair.
  • In 2016, the 25 millionth Pronto Pup was served at the Minnesota State Fair.
  • During a typical year, about 26,000 gallons of milk are served at the All You Can Drink Milk booth.
  • It would take 8-9 years for the average cow to produce all the milk served during the Fair’s 12-day run at the All You Can Drink Milk booth.
  • Approximately 6,000 pounds of strawberries are used each fair for ice cream treats at the Dairy Goodness Bar.
  • Approximately 182,000 ice cream treats are served at the Dairy Goodness Bar during the fair.
  • It takes 85-90 pounds of butter to sculpt the likeness of Princess Kay of the Milky Way each year at the State Fair, with the sculpture taking approximately 6 hours to complete.
  • The cooler where the Princess Kay of the Milky Way butter heads are sculpted is kept at a chilly 40 degrees.
  • The CHS Miracle of Birth Center is the birthplace of nearly 200 animals during the Fair’s 12-day run, including calves, lambs and piglets.
  • In 2023, there were over 15,000 unique exhibitors across all State Fair competitions, bringing over 30,000 entries to the Fair—in categories ranging from cows, cakes, jams and art to honey, Christmas trees, crop art and more.
  • Competition winners were collectively issued over $2 million in premiums in 2023.
  • More than 8,000 livestock competitors showcasing more than 20,000 animals vie for ribbons and cash prizes totaling upwards of $1.6 million each year.
  • More than 8,000 items are entered into the creative activities competition each year.
  • Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar grossed $4.5 million in 2022, making it the year's top vendor. Pronto Pups and The Mouth Trap Cheese Curds were the 2nd and 3rd highest grossing vendors, respectively.