Why is the Minnesota State Fair 12 days long?

Crowds on the first day of the Minnesota State Fair on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023 in Falcon Heights, Minn.
Crowds on the first day of the Minnesota State Fair on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023 in Falcon Heights, Minn.

— Renée Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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The Wisconsin State Fair is 11 days long. So is the Iowa State Fair. In North Dakota, the event lasts nine days. In South Dakota, just five.

So how did Minnesota come to outdo its neighbors, with a get-together running a full 12 days?

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Reader Jasmine Snow asked Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune's reader-powered reporting project, to figure out why the Minnesota State Fair is so long. Snow, a former Star Tribune intern, said the question came to her while she was working at the newspaper.

"I'm from South Dakota, actually, and so the state fairs that we have here aren't as cool," Snow said. "And looking into it, I hadn't found other state fairs that were as long."

(Yes, the State Fair of Texas is 24 days long — that's another story.)

Minnesota didn't have a 12-day State Fair until 1975. Until that year, the fair lasted between three and 11 days, said Keri Huber, an archivist with the Minnesota State Fair.

As the fair's popularity grew, so did the length of the event.

"There was a request for more and more days to extend it, especially for it to last two weekends," Huber said.

The Minnesota State Fair began as the Minnesota Territorial Fair in 1855, and lasted two or three days until 1857. The fair was governed by the Minnesota Territorial Agricultural Society and included agricultural exhibits such as grain, vegetables and livestock, as well as competitions. About 2,000 people attended each year, Huber said.

At that time, agriculture was just getting established in Minnesota, said Kate Roberts, director of exhibits for the Minnesota Historical Society.

"It was important for the movers and shakers of the Twin Cities to try to convince immigrants and folks to move to Minnesota because it is a great place to be a farmer," Roberts said.

The State Fair was held at Fort Snelling in 1860.
The State Fair was held at Fort Snelling in 1860.

Hennepin County Library

Over time, other features were added to the fair, including live entertainment, retail, rides and other attractions.

But agriculture is still featured throughout the fairgrounds, in spaces such as the livestock barns and the Agriculture Horticulture Building, which hosts the popular crop art competition.

"I think the key to the fair's success over time is that it has stayed true to its roots," Roberts said. "But it is also adapted as trends changed over time."

After a one-year hiatus due to a lack of funds in 1858 — the year Minnesota became a state — the fair returned in 1859 as the Minnesota State Fair. In 1885, the first year it was held at the permanent fairgrounds in Ramsey County, the fair ran for six days. Over time, the length gradually increased until it reached 12 days.

The fair didn't end on Labor Day until 1939. Huber said that having the fair last until the September holiday gave more opportunities for children to attend before heading back to school.

Labor Day weekend has become an increasingly popular time to attend the fair, and Huber said it's the "unofficial end of the summer for Minnesota."

Although there have been requests to extend the fair past 12 days, she said, it isn't feasible because vendors participate in other state fairs and need time for travel and setup.

The change in the fair's length has also changed the planning process. Huber said once the fair ends, officials start to look ahead at what to do better for the next year's fair. From contracting entertainment artists to renting buildings, it takes a whole year to plan the highly-anticipated event.

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