What would Wisconsin be without its fairs? The first one opened in Waukesha in 1842, six years before we became a state. We’ve had fairs almost every year since, somewhere in the state—or better said, about everywhere in the state.

Last week my brother Don and I attended the Waushara County Fair—and the memories began flowing. I showed cattle at that fair from 1946-1955, the years that I was a 4-H member.

All summer long during those years, I couldn’t wait for the fair to open, as I not only showed my 4-H calves there, but I got to stay overnight. My 4-H Club purchased a surplus tent left over from World War II—I think we paid $25.00 for it, and several used army cots for around $5.00 each. And it was in that old tent where the boys slept so we could take care of our calves.

It was my introduction to cotton candy and the Merry Go Round, plus a ride on the Ferris Wheel. It was my first look at a harness race and a horse pulling contest. It was the first time that I saw an airplane up close as a “barnstorming” pilot with a double-wing open cockpit plane offered rides. “See your farm from the air,” the pilot announced. I didn’t begin to have the money he wanted. So I watched as the plane bumped along the cow pasture just to the east of fair grounds and climbed into the air.

So much more. Fairs are as Wisconsin as cheese.

THE OLD-TIMER SAYS: What could be more fun than attending a fair?

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to

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