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Attendees of the 1914 North Carolina State Fair
Attendees of the 1914
North Carolina State Fair
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The 1884 North Carolina Exposition: A Fair to Remember

Every October, the North Carolina State Fair welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors. On the 154th anniversary of the first fair, DocSouth celebrates the annual event and the unique month-long fair of 1884.

The first North Carolina State Fair was held in Raleigh in October 1853. The North Carolina State Agricultural Society, an organization of the state's leading planter-politicians, founded the event to promote scientific agriculture among North Carolina farmers and to showcase the state's produce to the rest of the region and the country. The only years the week-long fair did not take place was 1861-66, due to the Civil War and its aftermath, and 1918, due to World War I and an influenza outbreak.

In 1884, the celebration was temporarily extended into a month-long North Carolina Exposition that may have been designed to compete with similar expos in Massachusetts, Georgia, and Kentucky. In an effort to make the Exposition into a spectacular event that would capture the national spotlight, organizers solicited sponsorship funds from the city of Raleigh and from state businesses. They also included exhibits from the state's colleges and universities designed to showcase educational reform in North Carolina. The 1884 expo is also notable because it was the first in which African Americans were allowed to participate, although in segregated events.

The promotional pamphlet for the 1884 expo reflects the grand scale of the event. It opens with a Raleigh visitor's guide and an appeal to North Carolinians to buy stock in support of the event's expansion. The pamphlet also provides maps of the expo site, rules for exhibitors' displays, and a list of agricultural premiums.

The 1884 pamphlet is part of DocSouth's North Carolina Experience Collection, which collects a wide variety of print and manuscript materials that tell the story of the Tar Heel State as seen through representative histories, descriptive accounts, institutional reports, fiction, and other writing.

Jennifer L. Larson