Great New York State Fair

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Great New York State Fair
Great New York State Fair Logo.png
The fair in 2008
Status Active
Genre State Fair
Begins Second Thursday before Labor Day
Ends Labor Day
Frequency Annually
Location(s) Empire Expo Center, Geddes, New York[1]
Years active 175
Inaugurated September 29, 1841 (1841-09-29)
Founder New York State Agricultural Society
Attendance 1,011,248 (2001)
Sponsor New York State Fair Commission
The Great New York State Fair

The Great New York State Fair is a 12-day showcase of agriculture, entertainment, education and technology. With midway rides, concessionaires, exhibits and concerts, it has become New York’s largest annual event and an end-of-summer tradition for hundreds of thousands of families from all corners of the state. The first fair took place in Syracuse in 1841 and took permanent residence there in 1890.[2] It is the oldest and one of the largest state fairs in the United States, with nearly one million visitors annually.

The Great New York State Fair begins on the third or fourth Thursday in August and runs for 12 days, ending on Labor Day. The 2016 fair will run from August 25 – September 5.

It is located on the 375-acre (152 ha) on the western border of Syracuse, in the town of Geddes.


  • February 1832 – The New York State Agricultural Society was founded in Albany by a group of farmers, legislators, and others to promote agricultural improvement and local fairs.[2]
  • September 29–30, 1841 – The nation’s first state fair is held in Syracuse, New York. Attendance estimated at 10,000-15,000; features include speeches by notables, animal exhibits, a plowing contest, and samples of manufactured farm and home goods.[2]
  • 1842 – The second New York State Fair is held in Albany.[2]
  • 1842-1889 – The fair travels among 11 different cities: Albany, Auburn, Buffalo, Elmira, New York City, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, Utica, and Watertown.[2]
  • February 1889-September 1890 – Syracuse Land Co donates to the Agricultural Society a 100-acre (40 ha) tract of land in Geddes, in Onondaga County. Crossed by railways that facilitate exhibit transport, this becomes the fair's permanent home.[2]
  • Late 1890s – The Agricultural Society turns to state government for relief from debt due to construction of permanent buildings on the site. The state purchases the grounds in 1899, and takes over management of the fair the next year, creating an 11-member State Fair Commission appointed by the governor.[2]
  • 1908 – The first structure in a $2 million long-term building plan is erected, with subsequent buildings completed at intervals over the next two decades, including the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building, now the Center of Progress Building.[2]
  • 1910 - The Dairy Products Building and Grange Building (now the Science & Industry Building) are added to the Fairgrounds.
  • 1923 - The Coliseum opens and hosts the World's Dairy Congress.
  • 1928 – The opening of an Iroquois village exhibit and an agricultural museum addresses a growing and nostalgic public interest in local history.[2]
  • 1938 – The fair acquires a new name—New York State Agricultural and Industrial Exposition—reflecting closer ties to industry, with an extended 14-day schedule featuring popular entertainment acts.[2]
  • 1942-1947 – No fair is held, as the fairgrounds become a military base during World War II.[2]
  • 1948 – A truncated fair returned, followed the next year by a six-day, full-scale exposition, to large crowds.[2]
  • 1950s-1960s – The fair expands to nine days and achieves attendance of over 500,000 by the end of the 1950s. The James E. Strates Midway is added, with nationally known entertainers to attract families and teenagers.[2]
  • 1962-1966 – The name is temporarily changed to the New York State Exposition.[2]
  • 1967 – The name is changed to the New York State Fair.
  • 1972 – Sonny and Cher perform at the fair’s Empire Court, breaking the fair’s concert attendance records.[3]
  • 1978 – The fair expands to 10 days, and the buildings at the fairgrounds begin to be rented during the off-season.[2]
  • 1980s-1990s – Fair officials respond to criticism of slim minority presence, by adding gospel festivals and a Pan-African village display. Sign language interpreters are also added, and the grounds are made accessible to people with disabilities.[2]
  • 1990 – The fair expands from 11 to 12 days, a format continued to this day.
  • September 7, 1998 – The fair closes one day early for the first time, due to the Syracuse Labor Day derecho. Two of the storm's three deaths occur on the fairgrounds.[4]
  • 2001 – Attendance tops 1 million for the first time. With 1,011,248 attendees, this year still holds the overall attendance record.[5]
  • 2008 – Fair administration focuses more on agriculture, with exhibits showcasing products made in New York State, such as the Pride of New York Marketplace and a permanent maple exhibit.[6]
  • 2009 – The fair changes its Chevy Court format to include two different performers each day.[7] Popular rock band Shinedown performs for an estimated 15,000 people, breaking the record set by Sonny and Cher in 1972.[8]
  • February 20, 2010 - The Syracuse Crunch host the first outdoor game in American Hockey League history at the Fairgrounds and set a league attendance record with 21,508 fans.[9]
  • 2010 – Country trio Lady Antebellum’s performance breaks 2009’s Chevy Court record with an estimated 30,000 attendees.[10] A record of 206,000 fairgoers attend Chevy Court concerts during the 12 day run. Paid attendance at the fair hits an all-time high, while the total attendance of 999,845 is the third highest in history.[11]
  • August 31, 2011 – Bruno Mars breaks the Chevy Court attendance record again with an estimated 35,000.[12]
  • August 30, 2014 – The Fair breaks its highest single-day attendance record of 120,516, with 120,617 visitors. Two days later, on Monday, September 1, that record is broken again with 122,870 visitors.
  • September 1, 2014 – The “Dollar Day” tradition is started on the fair's final day, Labor Day. This includes one-dollar admission, rides, and food and drink specials.
  • January 21, 2015 - A $50 million transformation of the Fairgrounds is announced. This is the first major renovation the Fairgrounds has seen in over 100 years.[13]
  • September 6, 2015 - Chevy Court's attendance record is broken again with 36,900 people attending a performance by the Steve Miller Band.[14]


Chevy Court[edit]

Chevy Court is an open-air concert theater. In 2009, the fair changed its format to feature two different national performing artists every day, rather than having the same artist perform twice on the same date, in order to attract additional people to the fair with acts appealing to different audiences.[7] Chevy Court performances attracted an estimated 150,000 people in 2009[15] and more than 170,000 in 2010 and over 200,000 in 2011. The stage has hosted Lady Antebellum, Bruno Mars, REO Speedwagon, and many others. The Syracuse New Times, a regional arts and entertainment publication, named Chevy Court the best free concert venue in Central New York in 2009, 2010 and 2012, and best state fair attraction in 2011. In 2015, suggested that Chevy Court be named the "Best Free Concert Series in America." [16] The Fair was also the recipient of the People's Choice Syracuse Area Music Award in 2016 for Best Festival.[17]


Amusement rides on the Midway.

The Midway features several rides, funhouses, games, and concession stands that appeal to fairgoers of all ages. The 2014 Fair brought the first new midway to the Fair in over 70 years, provided by Wade Shows. This change brought all new rides to the fair, as well as concession stands, games. Wade Shows offers valuable promotions to Fairgoers such as wristbands on everyday, a Mega Pass which can be used by one person for the entire duration and they had their most successful day yet during their first year at the New York State Fair when they offered dollar ride specials.[18] In addition to the Midway is Kiddie Midway which features rides and games for younger fairgoers. Approximately 70 rides are located in both the Midway and Kiddie Midway.



Agriculture is a large component of New York State, and a big part of the fair as well. The fairgrounds are large enough to host plenty of displays, events, competitions, and attractions that teach fairgoers the importance of agriculture.

In 2011, the fair had over 14,000 animals entered to be exhibited including horses, dairy cattle, rabbits, dairy goats, and more. In addition to animal entries, 2014 brought in over 10,000 agricultural entries including antique tractors, beverages, Christmas trees, flowers, forage, grain, and 4-H. For some, this is the only opportunity to see livestock up close and to meet with the men and women of New York State who grow and raise agricultural products that feed and clothe them.[19]

The fair also strives to promote New York grown products and foods. In 2008, the Pride of New York Marketplace occupied a permanent structure right at the main entrance to the fairgrounds. The Marketplace is stocked with foods made in every corner of New York State including gourmet sauces, syrups, and pastas.[20]

In 2013, the fair brought a new attraction to allow Fairgoers to sample different products from vendors in all regions of the state in the Taste NY tent. Each day, up to a dozen different food and beverage vendors would sample their products. The Taste NY tent turned out to be a favorite among repeat Fairgoers and became one of the highlights of the 2013 Fair.


Center of Progress Building[edit]

The Center of Progress Building is one of the largest of the 110 buildings on the fairgrounds. Located just inside the fair’s main gate, the building is one of the first structures seen by hundreds of thousands of people as they enter the Fairgrounds. It is located along the perimeter of Chevy Court which has hosted concerts with record breaking numbers year after year. A favorite among fairgoers, this prime location hosts up to 250 vendors and concessionaires, and has recently become home of the fair’s 180 ton sand sculpture.

Sand sculpture[edit]

The Center of Progress Building is the home of the massive, 180 ton sand sculpture. This exhibit is one that keeps fairgoers coming back day after day as a team of sculptors work their magic throughout the 12 days of the fair. In 2011, the fair received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback as they paid respect to the victims of 9/11 with a sand sculpture recognizing the 10 years that had passed since the terrorist attacks.[21] Past sand sculpture themes have included The Beatles, Syracuse University, USS New York, Dr. Seuss, The Olympics, and many, many more.[22]


The State Fair Coliseum was built in 1923 and its first event was the World’s Dairy Congress. 5,000 people came to view the million-dollar mile of bovine lords and ladies of every color and breed. Dairy cattle were brought in from 40 different countries. In 1947-48 SU held their basketball games there and in 1949-1952 the NBA Syracuse Nats called this home. The game in ‘49 set all-time records for which most still hold for the most points, most fouls, most free throws, most missed free throws, most overtimes, and longest game.[23]

During the fair, the Coliseum is used mainly for the multi breed horse shows which include breeds such as Pinto’s, Arabians, Miniature horses, Quarter horses, Morgan, and Appaloosas, hunter/jumpers as well as the draft breeds and the heavy and light horse pulls. This arena also accommodates the Holstein Dairy Cattle Show on dairy day, the 4-H agility dog show, and a variety of shows on Labor Day.

Horticulture Building[edit]

This large but graceful structure is one of the most beautiful buildings at the fairgrounds. Its intricately designed entrance, fronted by the fountain in the State Park reflecting pool, is an easily recognized fair landmark. Its proximity to the fair’s veterans’ memorials and the 9-11 memorials make it a regular stop for many visitors to the fairgrounds. During the fair, it hosts many horticultural exhibits and concessionaires including the famous $1 baked potato booth, the New York Maple Center, and produce, flower, and apple exhibits.[24] The building’s versatile design allows a wide variety of events to be held there throughout the year. It includes the fair’s New York Café, which operates during the fair and selected events.

Dairy Products Building[edit]

Ten vendors are located in this family oriented building during the fair, usually packed to capacity. Major attractions include a butter sculpture at the building’s center, and chocolate or plain milk sold at the Milk Bar for just 25 cents.[24] In 2012, 403,189 cups of milk were sold to fairgoers, breaking an all-time record at the New York State Fair. Other attractions include Dairy Princesses, free entertainment on center stage, and samples of fudge, baked goods, yogurt, chocolate covered strawberries, milkshakes, and pints of ice cream.

Butter sculpture[edit]

Located in the Dairy Products Building is a must-see attraction for fairgoers of all ages, the butter sculpture. 800 pounds of unsalted butter have made this a fair favorite since 1969. The revolving butter sculpture can be seen at the center of the Dairy Products Building. Once the fair is over, the butter is converted to biofuel to fuel college buses by students of the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. The butter sculpture is sponsored by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council.[25]

Dairy Cattle Barn[edit]

This building is a favorite among agriculture enthusiasts. During the twelve days of the fair, it is home to some of the state’s best dairy cattle exhibitors. During the off season, it is utilized as an exhibit building and hosts many trade shows for both the public and various industrial groups.

Science & Industry Building[edit]

This impressive, century-old structure serves as an anchor for Chevy Court. During the fair, a wide variety of health and safety-related exhibitions help to make this building one of the fair’s most popular visitor destinations.[24]

Art & Home Center[edit]

The Art & Home Center is home to a recently renovated demonstration kitchen, which has been the host of several celebrity cooking demonstrations by such notable chefs as Adam Richman, Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and others. The Art & Home Center is the hub of all culinary, art, and craft exhibitions with some of New York’s most talented artists displaying their work in fine arts, photography, woodworking, quilting, needle work, and more.[24] Each year, the Art & Home Center hosts its annual Women’s Day Luncheon. In 2009, the building celebrated its 75th anniversary by celebrating the life of suffragette Harriet May Mills, whom the building is dedicated to.[26] The building also hosts an impressive display of operating model trains and circus trains during each year's State Fair. In 1966 the Empire State Theatre & Musical Instrument Museum was established featuring an extensive collection of pianos, organs, phonographs, vintage motion picture projectors and movie palace artifacts and history, many of which are on permanent display.

The Art & Home Center contains the Empire Theatre. In addition to being home to local theatrical productions meetings and seminars, the theatre is home to a 1925 Wurlitzer Co. 3 manual 11 rank theatre pipe organ, opus 1143, which was moved from the RKO Keiths Theatre in downtown Syracuse in 1966 as the crown jewel of the musical instrument museum.

International Building[edit]

This building serves as a staple for food enthusiasts during the fair, where fairgoers can choose foods from select countries around the world. In 2010, the International Building was redesigned to feature more seating and an all-new New York Beer and Wine Pub.[27] In 2015, the International Building added a new Vegan and Vegetarian vendor - the first of its kind at the State Fair.[28]

Youth Building[edit]

An educational building meant to “edutain” youth and families attending the fair, this building is constantly packed with parents and children. Everyone leaves with something on their minds and in their hands. Upstairs serves as a dormitory for 4-H and FFA youth that are competing at the fair. There are 800 beds, lockers, full shower/bathroom facilities, and laundry. Downstairs has a variety of interactive sections for the youth to participate in, including a newsroom, demo kitchen, animal husbandry, crafts, and GPS mapping.

Attendance records[edit]

Day Attendance[29] Year
Thursday 74,385 2000
Friday 92,782 2001
Saturday 115,324 2010
Sunday 105,894 2002
Monday 85,711 2011
Tuesday 102,136 1972
Wednesday 112,706 1972
Thursday 81,369 2003
Friday 103,117 2002
Saturday 120,617 2014
Sunday 119,726 1985
Monday 122,870 2014
Total Attendance 1,011,248 2001

Future Dates[edit]

  • 2017: August 24 – September 4
  • 2018: August 23 – September 3
  • 2019: August 22 - September 2
  • 2020: August 27 - September 7

New York State Fairgrounds[edit]

Main article: Empire Expo Center

The 375-acre fairgrounds complex operates year-round and annually hosts more than 500 non-fair events.[30] These range from major entertainment and sporting events to a variety of equestrian competitions, consumer shows, community events and meetings that keep the fairgrounds teeming with people.

The Syracuse Nationals, one of the top five classic car shows in the country, draws nearly 80,000 people to its weekend event at the fairgrounds. Nearly 70 percent of attendees are 35 to 65 years old, making it one of the largest gatherings of baby boomers located in the Northeast. The fairgrounds is a key player in New York’s equine industry, hosting more than 40 horse events each year, including some of the most prestigious competitions in the Northeast. Last year, 65 trade and consumer shows brought nearly 400,000 people to the fairgrounds. A total of 50 entertainment events ranging from major rock concerts to theater pipe organ concerts attracted 133,235 people.


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