The State Library of Ohio at the Ohio State Fair

The Traveling Library exhibit at the 1914 state fair received top honors as an educational exhibit. Courtesy of the State Library of Ohio. Via Ohio Memory.

In less than two weeks, the Ohio State Fair will once again be open to the public for the first time since 2019. In addition to concerts, rides, and exhibits, fairgoers will be able to visit the Library Reading Nook, a new feature of the Lausche Youth Exploration Space featuring books and materials supplied by the State Library of Ohio.

In 1896 the Ohio State Fair used electric lights for the first time. Courtesy of the Ohio History Connection. Via Ohio Memory.

The first Ohio State Fair was held in 1850 at Camp Washington near downtown Cincinnati. The first day was reserved for setup and judging, but nearly 30,000 visitors attended the remaining two days of the event. Because transportation networks were still developing during the fair’s early years, most exhibitors and visitors lived nearby. To expand access, the Board of Agriculture held the event at different locations across the state until Columbus became the fair’s permanent home in 1874. The current fairgrounds at the Ohio Expo Center were first used in 1886.

Over the years, the fair grew. Entertainment in the form of pony rides and performing monkeys first appeared in 1853. The 1894 fair featured a college football tournament, and the Butter Cow made its first appearance in 1903. The 1916 fair featured the world’s largest American flag (which was nearly 9,000 square feet), and the Ohio State Fair Queen contest debuted in 1924. The Junior Fair was formed in 1929; today roughly 11,000 young people participate. The All-Ohio Youth Choir was established in 1963, and the first Sale of Champions Livestock Auction was held in 1968. The Ohio State Fair has been held every year since 1850 except for 1942-1945 (when the fairgrounds were leased to the Army Air Corps during World War II) and 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This exhibit from the 1920s appeared at the state fair and at county fairs throughout the state. Courtesy of the State Library of Ohio. Via Ohio Memory.

For many years, the State Library of Ohio exhibited at the state fair, sharing information about its programs and resources. This year, we’re happy to collaborate with the Ohio State Fair on the Library Reading Nook, part of the Lausche Youth Exploration Space. The exploration space will include demonstrations, interactive activities, and a game area in addition to the Library Reading Nook, where young children and their families can sit, relax, and enjoy picture books, including many provided by the State Library of Ohio.

Visitors at the Library Reading Nook can take home a list of picture books by Ohio authors and illustrators. Courtesy of the State Library of Ohio.

This year the Ohio State Fair is offering free admission coupons for children and teens aged 5—18 through local public libraries in conjunction with their summer reading programs. (Children under 5 automatically receive free admission.) Check with your local public library for availability. Even if you’re not able to visit the fair or the Library Reading Nook, you can find a list of great picture books by Ohio authors and illustrators in online and printable formats on the State Library’s website.

So put on your sunscreen and enjoy the exhibits, activities, food, and especially the Library Reading Nook. Welcome back to the Ohio State Fair!

Thank you to Stephanie Michaels, Research and Catalog Services Librarian at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!

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