As summer draws near, countless cities and towns across the United States gear up for a beloved annual tradition: the summer fair. Each summer, 46 state fairs take place in the US, in addition to innumerable county and cultural fairs, too, each offering plenty of excitement for their eager participants. And while there are a few things that unite them all—fried food, rides, and carnival games, to name a few—some fairs use their time in the spotlight creatively, with kooky contests, strange delicacies, and unusual traditions.
Before you get in line for your local fair, discover these 40 crazy facts about summer fairs first, from celebrities who got their start at them to the weirdest foods you’ll find on the fairgrounds. And before you hit the blacktop for hours under the blazing sun, make sure you know these 20 Tips for a Less Sweaty Summer.
Elvis Lost a Fair Talent Contest
Sometimes it pays to check out the local talent when you go to the fair. Legend has it that Elvis sang in the youth talent show at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, and not only did he not win, he actually came in fifth place. But the King was only 10 at the time, so he still had a lot of room for improvement. And if you want more embarrassing tidbits from celebs before they were famous, check out the 30 Funniest Photos of Celebrities as Teens.
A Fair in Maine Is a Hotbed of Activism
Not every summer fair is about corndogs and demolition derbies. The Common Ground Fair in Maine hosts political action groups and carefully vets all their vendors to make sure they meet their ethical standards. Their consideration for the environment is real enough that they banned bottled water sales in 2009, well before most people would have even considered such a thing. And if you’re wondering why that’s a good thing, a New Report Says Your Bottled Water Contains Unsafe Contaminates.
A Woman Ate Every Food on a Stick at the Minnesota State Fair
The Minnesota State Fair is known for its culinary opulence (read: deep-fried food), and in 2014, a woman ate one of every single food on a stick at the fair. When she tallied it all up, she’d eaten 93 different things to raise awareness for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. And if thinking about all that fried food has got you feeling sluggish, here are The 30 Best Foods for Maximizing Your Energy Levels.
Monkeys Race on Dogs in Georgia
Not content with your typical pig race? One of the biggest attractions at the Georgia State Fair is the Banana Derby, a touring show of monkeys who race dogs. And if you think that monkey jockey looks regal, check out these 15 Animals With Impressive Titles.
Competitive Dog Diving Is a Thing
The Banana Derby isn’t the only traveling animal entertainment in the fair circuit. DockDogs showcases the talents of diving dogs, who gladly launch themselves into water for your amusement at fairs all over the US. And if you’d like a little more puppy in your life, discover these 15 Amazing Benefits of Adopting a Pet.
Masses of People Get Hypnotized in New Jersey Every Year
For the past 20 years, hypnotist Steve Bayner has been putting on a show at the State Fair Meadowlands in New Jersey. Each year, more than 1,300 people get hypnotized over the course of the fair. And if you’d like to zone out without any outside help, learn these 10 Ways to Focus Better During Meditation.
Pennsylvania Doesn’t Have a State Fair
Rather than a massive state fair, Pennsylvania has over 100 smaller fairs. Of particular note is the Kutztown Folk Festival, which showcases the culture of Pennsylvania Dutch people, plus fun stuff like hexes, a Krampus on a tractor, and the “hokiest parade in America.” And if you just can’t get enough of the warm weather, discover the 30 Best Things About Summer.
You Can Look a Shark in the Eyes in Oklahoma
A landlocked state like Oklahoma is probably the last place you’d expect to run into a shark, but visit the Live Shark Encounter at the Oklahoma State Fair and you can do exactly that. And for more fun facts, check out these 30 Things You Always Believed That Aren’t True.
Texas Has the Biggest State Fair
Everything really is bigger in Texas—including the state fair. The State Fair of Texas has 3.5 million annual visitors, the highest attendance of any state fair in the United States. And if a crowd that big sounds like a nightmare to you, discover The World’s Most Private Getaways.
Competitive Husband Calling Exists in Multiple States
Some state fairs have put a humorous twist on hog calling, an old-fashioned fair classic. Instead of calling pigs, women call husbands to great comedic effect. It’s a popular event in Illinois and Iowa, and it generally involves a lot of shrieking and nagging. And if you think that’s bad, check out the 30 Worst Phrases to Use on Your Dating Profile.
The Iowa State Fair Got Political
In the absence of an official straw poll in Iowa, the 2015 Iowa State Fair conducted an unofficial straw poll of attendees about the 2016 presidential election. The poll favored Trump and Sanders for the nomination, so they got it about half right.
Your Old Shoes Could Be Big Winners
Odor Eaters sponsors Rotten Sneaker Contests every year at fairs across the country, in which all the different parts of a shoe are smelled and judged. Contestants must be between the ages of 8 and 15, and the winner receives $200 and a chance to win the national contest.
The Minnesota Is the Biggest Fair Per Capita
Texas may have the best-attended state fair, but the Minnesota State Fair is nothing to sneeze at. Last year, the fair set a new attendance record of 1.9 million visitors. That’s more than one third of the state’s population. The Texas fair attendance, in comparison, is only 12.5 percent of the total number of Texans.
Dr. Pepper Debuted at a Fair
Dr. Pepper was originally unveiled to the world at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Nearly 20 million people attended the fair.
Beyoncé Has Played a Few State Fairs
Before she was Queen Bey, Destiny’s Child played at state fairs in 1998 and 2001. That’s right: even Beyoncé has hit the state fair circuit.
Butter Sculptures Can Weigh Over 600 Pounds
Illinois has a 500-pound butter cow at their state fair. Iowa one-ups them with a 600-pounder. But the Big E, a fair that includes Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island, beats them both by using over 600 pounds of butter to create a butter sculpture that’s different every year, as opposed to a “traditional” enormous butter cow.
Marijuana Plants are Judged at Some Fairs
In Washington, D.C. and Oregon, marijuana plants are judged alongside other, more traditional, agricultural entries.
Scorpion Is on the Menu
At the Arizona State Fair, you can get scorpion two ways: deep-fried or covered in chocolate.
The Alaska Fair Is Older Than the State
The first Alaska “State” Fair was held in 1936, 23 years before Alaska gained official statehood in 1959.
You Can Get Married at the Kansas State Fair
The Kansas State Fairgrounds actually have multiple venues that can be rented out for weddings, so if you and your partner made fond memories over corndogs or fried dough, this is place for you.
Wisconsin Is Wild For Cream Puffs
You might think of cheese when you think of Wisconsin, but the most popular food at the Wisconsin State Fair is hands down the cream puffs. Over 350,000 of them are sold every year.
Llamas Get Dolled Up in Minnesota
Every year at the state fair in Minnesota, youth participating in 4-H have the opportunity to make an outfit for their llama and enter them into Llamarama, the llama costume contest. The llama owners will typically wear a coordinating costume to complete the look, and the animals are judged not only on what their costumes look like, but also on how they handle wearing them.
Realistic Mooing Can Pay Big Time
In Wisconsin, the winner of “Moo-La-Palooza,” the State Fair mooing contest, walks away with $1,000.
You Can Experience Scandinavia in North Dakota
Norsk Hostfest, the largest Scandinavian festival in the United States, is held every year in North Dakota, where one in three residents has Norwegian heritage.
People Compete to Be Super Farmers in Missouri
In Missouri, kids participate in a contest to be the best “Super Farmer.” Challenges range from shucking corn and roping a calf to the “wife carry,” which involves one teammate carrying another teammate in a manner of their choosing.
Spice Things Up With a Snake on a Stick in California
If you’re at the Alameda County Fair in California, skip the usual fair fare and go for some grilled python on a stick— you can feel good for eating adventurously and avoiding deep-fried food.
They Take Sand Castles Seriously in New Hampshire
Every year in New Hampshire, Hampton Beach holds a weeklong contest where sculptors from across North America take a 10-ton pile of sand and turn it into something amazing. The winner gets $15,000.
Cabbages Are Grown Competitively in Alaska
Every year, the Alaska State Fair has a Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off. In 2012, the winning cabbage set the world record for heaviest green cabbage at 138.25 pounds.
Pigeons Are Rolled for Sport in Iowa
If you toss a pigeon just right, they will flop end over end like a bowling ball. So, naturally, people do this competitively at the Iowa State Fair.
There’s a Dessert for People Missing a Sweet Tooth
If you hate sweets but want to blend in with everyone who’s having dessert, the New York State Fair has got just the thing for you. The hot beef sundae subs mashed potatoes, beef, cheese, sour cream, and a tomato for ice cream, chocolate sauce, sprinkles, whipped cream, and a cherry. In Indiana, the hot beef sundae also comes with corn, probably to remind you that you’re in the Midwest.
One Fair Has Its Own Monorail
The California State Fair in Sacramento is the only state fair that has its own monorail. The monorail only runs for two weeks every year.
You Can Watch Animals Being Born
At the Maryland State Fair, there is a birthing center where visitors can watch cows, pigs, sheep, and baby chicks being born every day.
Cows Are Artists in Montana
The Montana State Fair hosts the Ole Cow Lick Contest every year, where salt licks are judged in two categories: hand carved (carved by humans) and nature carved (carved by cow tongues).
You Can Have Your Beer And Eat It Too
At the Texas State Fair you’ll find, among other fried things, fried beer, so you don’t have to stop drinking just because you’re eating.
Outhouses Race in Iowa
The Iowa State Fair goes all out, and that extends to their annual Outhouse Race. Despite its name, this event is more of an obstacle course than a traditional race, with dirty toilets that must be cleaned sans hands, a corn cob hiding in a cattle trough waiting to be found, and a roll of toilet paper that needs changing. The team that wins this lowbrow contest gets a golden toilet seat for a prize.
Pet Rocks Are Making a Comeback
The Colorado State Fair was polite enough to create a contest for people who don’t do livestock. There are two categories in the Pet Rock Contest: Best Dressed and Best Rolling.
Legislators Get Judged in South Dakota
At the state fair in South Dakota, legislators compete for prizes in the Legislative Beef Showmanship contest. Rather than judging the cows, the legislators are judged on their showing skills, which they are taught immediately beforehand by a 4-H member.
One Fair Goes Through Half a Million Corndogs
Every year, visitors at the Minnesota State Fair eat 500,000 corndogs. This seems like a lot, but it’s actually only one corndog per seven visitors.
Rubber Chickens Have Replaced Rolling Pins
The Iowa State Fair used to have a women’s rolling pin throwing contest, but after a few too many mishaps, the kitchen implements were deemed too dangerous. Now women throw rubber chickens filled with sand instead for a safer, more ridiculous contest.
The State Fair Is Over 175 Years Old
The first state fair was held in 1841 in Syracuse, New York. It was a two-day affair at the end of September attended by somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 people. From the crazy contests to the massive turn out at modern fairs, things have clearly changed a lot since then. And if you want to see how else things have changed, check out 30 Ways Life Has Changed Since 2000 That You Haven’t Noticed.
To discover more amazing secrets about living your best life, click here to sign up for our FREE daily newsletter!