History of the New York State Fair

Onondaga Historical Association Tells the Story

September 1841, the nation's first state fair was held right here in Syracuse. Onondaga Historical Association's Executive Director Gregg Tripoli discusses the amazing history about what originally evolved into today's New York State Fair.


The first New York State Fair featured another original: the first-ever ferris wheel in the United States! It only had four buckets, stood fifty feet tall, and was reused for the next few fairs as time went on.

The fair grounds as we know them were not around when the fair first began, so earlier fairs were held up on James Street Hill. The fair was not always held in the Syracuse area until 1890, when it was made to officially stay in Syracuse. Residents pooled about $30,000 to buy land now known as the State Fair Grounds so there would always be a place for the fair to be held. It took about 
three years to put together and the effort was mainly coordinated by James Geddes, a local man.

In 1900, the state officially took over the fair, which consisted of an agricultural society so they could showcase what our agricultural products and people could do. 
Once the state took over the fair, they started building the more permanent buildings. We see the manufacturer’s building on the screen, which is now known as the Center of Progress building. 

By the year 1905, the fair was not doing very well, so the state decided to get some night shows and events going to attract more business. Locals would rent out their houses to keep carnival goers over night so they could then attend the fair the next day. The Kanunu Carnival drew hundreds of thousands of people to Syracuse to see it, and then check out the fair during the day.


In 1917, the fair grounds were turned into Camp Syracuse being used for WWI soldier training and the fair was suspended from 1942-1947. The camp was needed for training purposes and as a supply area.

Eventually, the New York State Agricultural and Industrial Exposition began and was a fourteen day event. Once the war ended, they knocked it back down to a nine day affair. Free shows began at the Grandstand and lasted until 1976.

In 1967, they changed the name back to The New York State Fair. Since then, the fair has grown and last year it hit a record attendance with 1.1 million visitors. This year, they have added an extra day, so we might just see another record broken.

For more on the Onondaga Historical Association, you can visit their website at cnyhistory.org.

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