Skip to main content

History of the Fair

The Illinois State Fair called many places home in the first few years of its existence. The roots of the Illinois State Fair are embedded in its grounds, where the Fair now resides. The Fair continues its longstanding commitment to excellence and the focus to showcase Illinois' agricultural history, educational values and art.


The first Fair was held in Springfield, IL in 1853, at a site on the west side of town. The Fair of 1853 promoted not only improved methods of agriculture and raising livestock, but also displays of improvement for labor, industry, education, arts and sciences. The admission fee was twenty-five cents and up to 20,000 people attended the Fair on its third day. Focusing on family activities, it was reported that "not one inebriated man was seen!"

In 1854, the Fair was once again held in Springfield. The attraction this time was Senator Steven Douglas' speech and Abraham Lincoln's rebuttal the following day.

The Fair has been held in 12 cities throughout Illinois, including: Chicago, Alton, Peoria, Freeport, Jacksonville, Decatur, Quincy, Ottawa, Du Quoin, Olney and Centralia.

1858 proved to be quite a year for the city of Centralia as well as the Illinois State Fair. During the Fair's residence in Centralia, chaos burst out when two farm children accidentally ascended into the sky, after the hot-air balloon tied to their father's fence broke loose. Fortunately, the balloon landed 18 miles away and the children were found unharmed.

The 10th anniversary of the Fair was hampered due to the Civil War and the economic depression. Premiums were awarded, but without a general Fair site.

The opening of the first permanently located Fair was September 24, 1894, and it ran for an extent of six days. Admission was 50 cents for adults, seventy-five cents for one person on horseback, and $1.25 for a carriage load of four. Premiums totaled $30,000 for that year and many of the buildings on the fairgrounds were renovated.

The Fair has had its home in Springfield for over 100 years. Many buildings on the fairgrounds have also celebrated over 100 years of history in Springfield. For the amount of $69,500, the Dome Building was purchased from the Chicago World's Fair and was then reconstructed for the 1895 Fair. It was reported that the dome was the second largest unsupported dome in the world.

Tragically, the Dome Building, located just east of the Exposition Building burned down in August, 1917, just before the Fair opened.

The Fair now runs eleven days, and is filled with many exciting attractions and outstanding entertainment. Through the years, the Illinois State Fair has had one of the most extensive agriculture shows in the country. It is a place to congregate and learn the history of Illinois Agriculture. The premiums that are offered, serve as an incentive to have exhibits in areas other than just agriculture.

Currently, the fairgrounds cover 366 acres. The Illinois State Fair is legendary to Springfield and the State of Illinois. It has provided many memories to the hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Roaming through the beauty of the fairgrounds and experiencing the historic essence, visitors will make their own history at the Illinois State Fair.