In 1846, the Ohio Legislature created the 53-member Board of Agriculture. One of the Board’s first acts was to establish a District Fair. The resulting 1847 District Fair at Wilmington and the 1848 District Fair at Xenia were both successful, thus warranting a State Fair.
The first Ohio State Fair was planned for September 1849, but an outbreak of Asiatic cholera forced cancellation of those plans. The following year, later dates were set to lessen the risk of cholera. Even so, Darius Lapham, the superintendent of the grounds, died of the disease just a few weeks before the opening date.
Camp Washington (two miles east of downtown Cincinnati) was the site of the first Ohio State Fair, Oct. 2 – 4, 1850. The site was described as eight to 10 acres with grass slopes, shade trees and numerous tents. The grounds were enclosed by a 10-foot-high board fence. Cattle were tethered to a railing along the carriage road.
The railroads offered strong support to the early state fairs. Special rates were offered whereby exhibits were transported without charge, and the exhibitor rode for half fare. Several Central Ohioans contributed to the support of the first Fair, including Alfred Kelley, owner of the Columbus and Xenia Railroad Company.
Cash premiums at the first Fair did not exceed $20, with the exception of an award of $50 given to the winning essayists on the topic “Improving the Soil.” During the early state fairs, winners received medals, not ribbons, as awards. In 1850, the silver medal was valued at $3.
The public was admitted only on the second and third days of the first Fair. Day one was devoted to setup and judging. Admission was 20 cents, but exhibitors could buy a $1 badge for admission for their families. A visitor could also buy a $1 badge for one gentleman and two ladies.
The two-day attendance was estimated at 25,000 to 30,000 people.
Transportation around Ohio was difficult. Therefore, the majority of exhibitors came from close proximity to the Fair. Officials reasoned that moving the Fair should increase interest and attendance.
Over the next 22 years, the Fair was held in the following cities:
- 1851 – Columbus (on the site of Mt. Caramel Hospital)
- 1852 – Cleveland
- 1853 – Dayton
- 1854 – Newark
- 1855 – Columbus (on the site of Mt. Caramel Hospital)
- 1856 – Cleveland
- 1857 – Cincinnati
- 1858 – Sandusky
- 1859 – Zanesville
- 1860 -1861 – Dayton
- 1862 – 1863 – Cleveland
- 1864 – 1865 – Columbus (on the site of Schiller Park)
- 1866 – 1867 – Dayton
- 1868 – 1869 – Toledo
- 1870 – 1871 – Springfield
- 1872 – 1873 – Mansfield
- 1874 – 1885 – Columbus (on the site of Franklin Park)