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Bio-Lancaster Farming, Saturday, January 8, 2000
The Pennsylvania State Farm Show serves
as a valuable forum to improve our agricultural
industry. This showcase of agriculture recognizes
the outstanding achievements of the industry,
offers unique location to display new
technological advancements, and provides the
competitive spirit that helps increase farm
production year after year.
William Penn sought to instill the
importance of a strong agricultural program in
the minds of the early settlers and instigated the
first Philadelphia Fair in 1686. Agricultural
shows gained an additional boost with the
creation of the Philadelphia Society for
promotion Agriculture in 1785. A state fair was
held in Chester County in 1823 through the
combined efforts of the society and farmers
around the state
The educational value ot expositions and
the enthusiasm associated with them spread like
wildfire. To keep pace with the rapid succession
of new ideas and inventions, representatives from
50 counties banned together to form the
Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society in 1851.
They conducted the first State Fair that year in
Harrisburg, with nearly 20,000 paid admissions.
State fairs were held in different cities
throughout 1899, allowing new groups to view
The establishment of the Penn State
University in 1855 and the State Board of
Agriculture in 1876 (which became the
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture) helped
expand the education-role of those fairs.
Agriculture organizations promoted the idea
of an annual winter show when they gathered for
their meetings in 1907 m the old Executive
Building near the Capitol There was a small
show for milk, a modest show tor butter, a show
for corn, and exhibits provided by dairy and
Livestock and horticultural groups
continued to push for an annual state fair, so
Secretary of Agriculture Chailes Patton invited
agricultural leaders to meet with him in Lancaster
in 1916 and the State Farm Show was born.
Farmers wanted a show geared toward education,
with exhibits and meeting-room facilities.
The original Farm Show Committee set
January as the best month suited for the show, a
time when farmers are deciding what equipment
and supplies to buy for the coming season. Both
objectives hold true to this day.
First Show in 1917
The first Pennsylvania Farm Show was held
in 1917. Called the Pennsylvania, Corn, Fruit,
Vegetable, Dairy Products and Wool Show, it
featured educational displays and meetings for
the various groups.
The event, held in the Emerson
Brantingham Building in Harrisburg, attracted
about 5,000 visitors and featured $735 in
premiums. By comparison, the 2000 Farm Show
offers $263,841 in premiums and should attract
over 300,000 visitors.
Wartime conditions nearly canceled the
1918 show The federal government seized
control of the railroads to prevent freight-train
gridlock and the inability to get farm machinery
and exhibits in on time posed great uncertainty.
Yet the founders of the event weie reluctant to
surrender the years of work it took to stage the
first show. In December 1917 Agriculture
Secretary Charles Patton called a meeting that
straightened things out and created a formal
organization for operating future Farm Shows the
State Farm Products Show Committee.
When a formal commission was created by
law m 1927 to take over the show administration,
the committee and its representatives of the major
agricultural association became an advisory
The Farm Show has always recognized the
importance of our farm youth. The first show
had 40 schoolboys competing in corn and potato
Baby beet entries were brought to the
growing exposition in 1926, with the first grand
champion bringing 25 cents a pound at auction
for a total of $266 59. By contrast. Bill
Campbell, chairman of the board for Hoss's Steak
and Sea House, paid a whollopmg $34,905 30 for
the grand champion steer at the 1999 Junior
Livestock Sale of Champions.
Momentum was building for construction of
a permanent Farm Show site. In 1921, the
Legislature approved the State Fair Law,
establishing an 11-member commission to lay out
a general site plan and obtain options on
Farm Show History Remembered
property. Although several good options existed,
the time was not right. A business recession put
a damper the idea and the Legislature quietly
dropped the idea of a state fair and fairgrounds.
By 1925, exhibits and meetings were being
held m 15 locations. The first 4-H livestock was
exhibited in 1926 when the Adams County 4-H
Baby Beef Club entered 49 Hereford Steers.
Show officials reported that 100 persons per
minute were passing throughout the Emerson-
Brantmgham Building that year, which posed a
liability risk to the State Farm Products Show
New Building Called For
By 1927, attendance swelled to 50,000, and
visitors often waited for hours to enter the exhibit
building, prompting calls for expanded facilities.
In 1929, the Commission approved a vacant 40
acre site already owned by the state on
Harrisburg's northern fringe at Cameron and
Maclay Streets. The tract was a cow pasture for
the Harrisburg State Hospital.
Nearly 400 bids were submitted and a
contract was awarded on October 24, 1929, the
same day the New York Stock Exchange
collapsed for the first of two times within a week,
wiping out billions in investments and throwing
America's economy into a tailspin. Had a
construction decision been delayed any longer,
it's doubtful whether the building would have
A feature of the 1930 Farm Product? Show
was the naming of three farmers and a farmer's
wife to be a Dairy King, Swine King, Potato
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King, and Turkey Queen, the earliest commodity
royalty. When the show ended, officials
estimated attendance to be 80,000.
The new building was dedicated on the
opening day of the 15th show in 1931. One of
the most distinctive details of the Farm Show
building design was a frieze depicting cattle,
swine, poultry and other farm animals parading
around the upper level of the facade.
The event itself was officially renamed the
Pennsylvania State Farm Show, competitive
livestock judging was added and more than 30
farm organizations held meetings.
In all, 7,300 competitive exhibits were
vying for $37,000 in cash premiums, and floor
space was divided between commercial,
competitive and educational use.
With the new building came greater
enthusiasm and the number of farm products
doubled. With the success of the 1931 show, the
Legislature approved the money to build a 15,000
square foot cattle barn and purchase another 27
acres of land for expansion. Opened for the 1932
show, the building raised the total area to
440,000 square feet or fully ten acres under roof.
Large numbers of youth began taking part
in the Farm Show. Following a disciplinary
problem, the Commission requested that all 4-H
club members wear their dub hats and all
vocational school students wear Future Farmers
of America buttons. Now the FFA members all
wear their familiar bluejackets and proudly hold
their annual convention in the Large Arena.
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