Since 1904, the Florida State Fair has served fair-goers with cotton candy, fresh Carmel apples, corn-dogs, concerts and several rides.
To mark its 100-year anniversary, this year’s attractions include a museum documenting the history of the fair from the opening day to the present with several important mile markers in between.
Deborah Guglielmo, who has decorated museums and other venues for over 30 years, designed the Florida State Fair’s Centennial Celebration museum, which is located in the Charles Davis Special Events Center.
“(Because of) all of the pictures I have hung (in the museum), I have become attached to the early history. The Fair is more than just sausages and corn dogs. We are trying to re-instill the heritage of what the Fair was all about to new audiences,” Guglielmo said.
According to a press release, the Fair began in 1904 when T.J. Laud-Brown came to Florida to improve business. His goals were to revive the fairs that had come and gone in the previous years, and he did so by convincing the railroad owners that they needed to support a South Florida fair and hold it at the Tampa Bay Hotel.
Laud-Brown announced to the community that this event was comparable to the celebration of “Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”
The first fair was held in July of 1904 and was one of Florida’s first organized, planned and promoted attractions that included buildings suitable for year-round use.
Donna, Keith and Charlie, local citizens of Tampa, said they have been going to the Fair for 40 years. They come for the corn dogs and Italian sausages.
“We came when it was first at the University of Tampa,” Charlie said.
They said the main difference they have noticed through the past 40 years has been the price change.
In 1975, the Florida State Fair Authority decided to design and build new grounds for a bigger facility. The east Hillsborough County site chosen hosted its first Fair the following year and remains the Fair’s home.
Between the years of 1998-2003, about 3 million people visited the Florida State Fair, according to the press release.
The fair has always been a learning experience. Long before television existed, the Fair was where the newest innovations were introduced to the public. It was also used to advertise products and services. The fair was a place to see everything first, Guglielmo said.
“For example, the corn dog was first introduced at the Fair, along with other things like Rain-X and Gatorade,” according to Guglielmo.
One item on display this year is one of Saddam Hussein’s military uniforms. A United States officer took one off a laundry truck as it was leaving the presidential palace in Iraq.
The atmosphere is one of the aspects that sets the Fair apart from all other carnivals, and that is the detail that is impossible to duplicate, Guglielmo said.
“I came here to try the most recent desert, which came out this year, the key lime pie on a stick. It may sound weird, but it is worth a try,” said one fair-goer.
The fair will be open until February 16. For more information on ticket prices and concert times go to: www.floridastatefair.com .