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Early Sedalia Fairs

Prior to the organization of State Fairs, there were county fairs. The Gentry family of Pettis County were outstanding stockmen and had long been involved in local fairs. The first county fair was held in 1857 on the farm of Major William Gentry. In 1872, William Gentry served as President of the Agricultural and Mechanical Association. The Association purchased 50 acres of land in west Sedalia for the purpose of a fairgrounds with a racetrack and amphitheater. The fairgrounds was known as Sisher Park and today is known as Liberty Park. Races were featured at these county fairs, attracting 10,000 people to the mile and a half racetrack.

Nicholas T. Gentry was later named first Missouri State Fair superintendent.


Sedalia benefactor and State Representative, John Bothwell, lobbied for Sedalia to become the State’s Capitol, however, it was de-cided the State Capitol would be in Jefferson City. As a way to showcase the best of the best in the State of Missouri, in 1899, the State Legislature established the Missouri State Fair as the official exposition of the Commonwealth of Missouri. In early fall of 1899, it was advertised throughout Missouri that the location for the State Fair was open for bid. The six cities who vied for the fair included: Centralia, Chillicothe, Marshall, Mexico, Moberly and Sedalia. A spirited competition ensued, with the help once again of Mr. Bothwell, Sedalia won the location. The fairgrounds would be at the location originally set aside for the capitol building.

The Fair Comes to Sedalia

The first Missouri State Fair was held September 9-13, 1901. The fair was to be educational in all aspects. While exhibits were informative, education became blurred with the entertainment at the racetrack. The feature attraction at the first fair was an exhibit of an automobile on the track performing “thrilling exhibition and fancy track work.” Aside from the favored horse races, there were bicycle races and automobile races.

While it was a showcase of all that is agriculture, the fair also exhibited everything from the states natural resources to societies more cultured side. Paintings, china painting, pyrographics (woodburning), tooled leatherwork, fancy penmanship, and textiles of all kinds were also exhibited. Social history is an area of significance because society was expected to benefit if fairgoers were made aware of the products and achievements of Missouri and Missourians.

In September of 1903, a fire started in the cattle barns and spread to the fire department building and temporary grandstand. All was destroyed.

A major building program was launched in 1906. Thomas W. Bast, the state fair architect, would design every major fairgrounds building from 1900 - 1926, from the earliest wooden structures through the many brick buildings which followed. Most of these early brick buildings, including exposition halls, animal barns, the coliseum and the woman’s building are intact, impressive representatives of early 20th century fairground architecture.

Laying out the driveways and park areas was the task of George E Kessler, a landscape architect from Kansas City. Kessler’s ‘bird’s-eye view” of the first Missouri State Fair shows a layout that remains essentially unchanged, albeit expanded.

Traditions Learning at the Fair

The Fair’s Silver Anniversary was in 1925. The exposition demonstrated without a doubt that Missouri agriculture had improved and large attendance (over 200,000) was proof that rural conditions were on an upward trend. On that silver anniversary, the Missouri State Fair proved that the “Show Me State” was the ‘lead horse’ in pulling the industry of agriculture out of retrogression. Missouri was producing more fine saddle horses than Kentucky, more fine mules, jacks and jennets than any other state or country in the world, the finest herds of beef and dairy cattle, the finest hogs and sheep and the best apples in all fruit-producing sections of the country.

While everyone has their own reason to come to the fair whether it be to have their traditional state fair corn dog and cotton candy, to see their favorite performer at a concert, enjoy carnival rides, view new products at exhibits or maybe just to people watch ..... agriculture is still the foundation upon which the fair is built. It is here that many families have shown livestock for generations. Families gather. Parents and grandparents come to offer assistance as their children and grandchildren prepare for the competition. These families bond with other families and create a camaraderie that lasts a lifetime, as they watch each others children grow. The fair for these families is like a family reunion, a community. They have created values that are at the core of the Missouri State Fair.


Though much remains the same at the fair, it has also seen change. Gone are the days when ladies and gentlemen strutted around the fairgrounds in their very best attire. Todays visitor takes a much more casual view of visiting the fair, donning the typical shorts and t-shirts. However, not just the patrons of the fair have changed, the fairgrounds itself continually changes.

Now over one hundred years old, the Missouri State Fair remains the showcase of Missouri agriculture, offering competition and exhibits of livestock, crops and seed and agricultural products. It is an educational event set in an atmosphere of entertainment.

In 1991 the Missouri State Fairgrounds was placed on the National Reg-ister of Historic Sites. The Historic District is significant in the areas of agriculture, architecture, social history, entertainment and recreation.

Farming, Family & Fun

In 1998, a Master Plan for enhancements to the Missouri State Fairgrounds was completed. The plan was driven by the visions of Missouri citizens, looking to build upon the benefits of the Fair for future generations. As a result of the master plan, the coliseum (considered the fairs architectural centerpiece) has been refurbished, the centennial gate was built along with a new FFA building and the National Guard Armory is now housed on the fairgrounds.

In preparation for the Fair’s Centennial Celebration in 2002, an exhibit was created to reflect the first 100 years of fun. Storylines of the exhibit reinforce that:

The Missouri State Fair is a showcase for rural traditions and values. Through its history, the fair has featured products and services that help farmers become more successful. It has operated on the same fairgrounds in Sedalia since 1901. The fair celebrates and promotes Missouri farming and rural family life.

At the MSF, fun comes in all forms and varieties - some are wholesome and educational, others are the guilty pleasures we secretly relish.

With goals of the master plan being implemented, the fairgrounds will continue to grow and change. However, its roots will remain connected to working the land.

For more information on the Fair contact:
Missouri State Fair 
2503 W. 16th Street
Sedalia, Missouri 65301


Produced and Distributed by:

The Sedalia Heritage Foundation
600 East Third Street • Sedalia, MO 65301
660-826-2932 • Copyright 10/03