172 Years of Food, Farm & Fun!
1842 – 2014
The Waukesha County Fair is proud to be the oldest fair in the state of Wisconsin. This year, we’re celebrating our 171st Anniversary with special events and promotions throughout the 5-day Fair run.
In this commemorative year, it’s the perfect time to take a look back in time and share our fondest Fair memories. The first Waukesha County Fair was held in 1842 in a poplar grove on Carroll Street in Prairieville.
It was a gala 4th of July Celebration, complete with fireworks and a festive dinner. One of the day’s highlights included a plowing match between the farmers, with about $40 in premiums awarded to the winners. The highest single premium was $3 for the best yield of corn from one acre.
By 1853, Waukesha County had become a reality. The agricultural societies of Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties consolidated to organize the event, with tickets priced at ten cents. The Fair drew crowds of up to 4,000 people daily with floral displays, a band, and a Ladies Equestrian Display.
The next 50 years brought several relocations and name changes. In 1858, the Fair had acquired its own site on the grounds of what was the old state industrial school, which is now the Saratoga Softball Complex on Prairie Avenue. Sometime after the 1880s, the grounds were moved to the Fountain House Property, which is now the Fountain Springs Apartment Complex on Grand Avenue. The Fair was held there for a dozen years and then abandoned when the Agricultural Society disbanded.
In the early 1900s, the Fair was back as the Farmer’s Institute Dairy Show held in Downtown Waukesha. In 1916, it moved to the Sales Pavilion on Baxter Street which was owned by the Waukesha County Livestock Breeders Association, now the home of Waukesha Discount Liquor. On the Friday of Fair week, school was let out early so everyone could attend.
In 1960, the Sales Pavilion was sold and the Waukesha County Livestock Breeders Association went out of business. The Fair was moved to Wales Village Park and named the Waukesha County Fair. In 1966, the Fair moved to its present location at the Waukesha Exposition Center. In 1969, 4-H built the Youth Building. The Waukesha Horse Association constructed an outdoor horse show ring. In 1971, the dairy barn was added and in 1974 the beef barn was constructed. Agribusiness firms financed both of these buildings as well as the swine barn.
In 1972, a $1 parking fee was charged, and in 1981, a 50 cent admission fee was added. The Fair Association paid for the construction of a regulation truck/tractor pull track. With the construction in ’82 of the East Exhibition Hall, the Youth Building was renamed the 4-H Forum financed by making and selling pizzas.
Entertainment was added in 1984. The 1st Main Stage line-up featured Loretta Lynn, Mickey Gilley and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The following year, the Waukesha County Fair Association took over managing the Fair since 4-H no longer had the finances or employees to do it. In 1988 and 1989, beer and wine coolers were sold, and an Executive Director was hired as the Fair’s first paid employee.
The Waukesha County Fair Association has shown its strong commitment to the Exposition Center by working with 4-H in the development of the grounds. Buildings, electrical services, walkways, hill removal and many other improvements have been funded by the Waukesha County Fair Association.
The Waukesha County Fair leases the Exposition Center grounds for the week of Fair. Most residents are unaware that, by contract, the Fair is required to pay the following base rent,
which carves out a large proportion of our operating budget:
- 2006 — $75,000
- 2007 — $77,500
- 2008 — $81,500
- 2009 — $84,000
- 2010 — $86,500
- 2011 — $35,000
- 2012 — $40,000
- 2013 — $45,000
Today, we still have just one full time paid employee, and Shari Black has been Executive Director for more than a decade. As an active 4-H participant showing animals & exhibits, to her reign as Fairest of the Fair, Shari’s knowledge of the Fair and all its components qualifies her to represent this organization which serves the community so well.
We are very pleased to announce our recent Travel Green Wisconsin certification from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. We have already implemented a number of practices to reduce our environmental footprint and ensure that the Fair contributes to sustainable travel.
We’re particularly proud of the sound environmental practice of building a rain garden, to conserve water and prevent damaging run-off. We also clean and recycle our livestock woodchips for composting. Another green initiative we’re looking into is printing our marketing materials on recycled paper with eco-friendly soy ink. Watch for more Travel Green commitments moving forward—we’ll be sure to keep you informed.
We’d like to take a moment to express our heartfelt appreciation to our many volunteers and friends of the Fair. We couldn’t have made it this far without all your help and support! We hope you’ll join us at this year’s 172nd celebration.