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Fairs gave us info
long before TV ads

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
Once upon a time, long before today's boring, repetitive, loud and often dumb TV advertisements, armloads of unwanted junk mail and irritating phone calls, there was a subtle and entertaining form of advertising called a fair.

The first official state fair is thought to have been in Michigan in 1849. Of course, the largest state fair is in Texas each October.
Dallas, Texas State Fair Grounds old post card
Dallas, Texas State Fair Grounds
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
Smaller town, county and area fairs are held annually across the nation. Most of these celebrations offer exhibit competition. Livestock, food preservation, garden produce, art and handicraft competitions are usually featured.

The purchase, lease or donation of land for a fairground was often the first community-wide effort of a vigorous-minded citizenship. This was before the time when large structures were built for such use. The use of taxes for such purposes was absurd. The great outdoors located on property lying near a town proved to be the most economical answer for facilities for an annual fair. A public water well and some privies were the extent of fairground facilities. Even better, public camp grounds could accommodate those who stayed overnight.
Dallas TX - Texas Company, State Fair Exhibit
"The Texas Company, Texas State Fair Exhibit"
1912 Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/

The subtle part of the community fair came in the form of advertising new products offered by local merchants and major manufacturing companies. Poor transportation, slow communication, large numbers of rural families who seldom came to town left many ignorant of the many newfangled gadgets invented to make life and work easier. Printed advertising was costly. To show their products, they needed people, the more the better. They needed a way to attract people, and the fair seemed to be the answer. Most who attended a fair came away knowing much more than they knew at arrival. Many had one of those new gadgets in hand as they left. If you had no money, you were still entertained and learned about products.

Windmill manufacturers used fair exhibits to the maximum. The best photographs of displays are in "The Windmiller's Gazette," published by T. Lindsay Baker of Rio Vista. Many displayed windmills pumped water from wells dug on the fairground for demonstration.

Farm equipment manufacturers also used local fairs. Horse-drawn implements were demonstrated on the fairgrounds, and later, tractors were shown plowing nearby leased farm ground. Some companies loaded flat railroad cars with new implements and had them parked on the sidetracks adjacent to fairgrounds ready for delivery.

Perhaps the greatest reason for attending a fair was to escape the drudgery of hard farm life for a few hours; eat something besides pinto beans and cornbread; see something colorful and shiny instead of dust and rust; buy, sell or trade something you made or raised; and there was always the chance of meeting someone more interesting than your siblings and neighbors. Many a lifelong romance began with a chance meeting at the local fair.

Delbert Trew - "It's All Trew"
April 12, 2011 column
Related Topics: Ranching

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This page last modified: April 12, 2011