The History & Magic of the Wisconsin State Fair | News

WEST ALLIS (WKOW) – Over a century of summers ago, a beloved tradition was born along the banks of the Rock River.

Back then, a coin bought your entrance into the world of wonder.

It started as a way to showcase animals and show off talent — traveling from Janesville, to Watertown, to Madison before finally settling in West Allis.

Today, the Wisconsin State Fair is 171 years old.

“The Wisconsin State Fair has been so expansive and so innovative with new foods, new agriculture exhibits, new competitive exhibits, brand new entertainment and shows,” said Tess Kerksen, Director of Public Relations for the Wisconsin State Fair.

According to Kerksen, the 11-day event takes 11 months of planning and preparation. But, the history and magic goes back far further than that.

In the 1800’s, the Wisconsin State Fair offered farm machinery displays—ranging from tractors to plows. Agriculture was also on the forefront of this century with both animals and dairy products on display. As cars grew more popular, people from across Wisconsin came to attend.

In the 1900’s, aviation demonstrations further expanded the fair’s reach – drawing people from all over the world. Modern day inventions, like electricity, also allowed the fair to stay open into the night. This added charm and allure to already popular concerts, football games and horse shows at the Grand Stand.

Today, in the 2000’s, the Wisconsin State Fair offers some of everything. You can fly through the sky on rides, taste unique cuisines that can’t be found anywhere else and capture all of your memories in real time.

Over the years, countless guests have entered the fair’s gates—each with their own unique earthly experience. And there—in the colorful sights, joyful sounds and delicious smells of it all, tradition united and uplifted them.

“Everyone has a State Fair story,” said Jen Puente, Chief Marketing Officer for the Wisconsin State Fair.

Puente’s story began as a child.

“When you’re a kid, everything looks amazing, you know, the rides look bigger, and the games look bigger, and the stuffed animals you win look bigger,” Puente said.

From the first time she went to the fair, Puente was hooked. In fact, she never really left.

“There’s a magic that makes the State Fair the State Fair,” Puente said.

Jen participated in 4H, was crowned the Fairest of the Fairs for Ozaukee County, and found her life’s passion for Marketing and Communication through an internship with the fair.

“Who knew at the ripe age of 21, that I would find a job that I loved so much,” Puente said.

Puente’s story was still being written though. After working on the Fairgrounds for several years, she crossed paths with the love of her life, who also worked on the fairgrounds.

“We were floating in the same little cloud for a very long time — for about 10 years — without really having ever met and once we finally did meet up there was no turning back,” Puente said.

On stage during a Salt N Pepa Concert at the Wisconsin State Fair, Puente had her Cinderella moment, as her now husband, proposed.

“The crowd went wild,” Puente said. “The first person I really hugged was not really my husband after we got engaged. It was Salt N Pepa.”

While times have changed since the fair’s inception—with an uptick in crime forcing organizers to step up security, and the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the 2020 fair all together, the fair has found a way to keep the tradition going.

“We worked through a lot of different things to create an innovative solution with a fair food drive-thru which we were able to host with people in their vehicles getting some fair food and getting a little taste of the Fair, which really challenged our team to be more innovative than ever, and brought us together on a completely different level,” Kerksen said.

The bar will continue to rise as time goes on, but organizers say it is one they intend to meet, as they work to inspire and entertain the masses for years to come.

“For those who have never been to the State Fair, it is ripe for memories that you can create with your family,” Puente said.

This year, Puente plans to pass the history and magic of the Wisconsin State Fair on to the next generation as she brings her baby boy for the very first time.

“I can’t wait to see his reaction to everything that we love,” Puente said.

The Wisconsin State Fair started today and will run until August 14. It will be open from 10 am to 10 pm Wednesday through Sunday, and 10 am to 12 am Saturday.

For more information about the Wisconsin State Fair, visit their website.


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