The year was 1904. The American Flag had 45 stars, Theodore Roosevelt was president and the average American earned 22 cents per hour. It was the year that T.J. Laud-Brown, the manager of the Tampa Bay Hotel convinced the city founders and the rail line that they needed to bring the South Florida Fair to the grounds of the Tampa Bay Hotel. The South Florida Fair Association was formed and plans for a new exhibition were proposed. That first Fair was held on a 27-acre plot adjoining the Henry B. Plant’s Tampa Bay Hotel, now known as the University of Tampa. The attractions were simple, as there were five races to bet on and the various agricultural exhibits were showcased in just one building.
Soon after, the event became known as the Florida State Mid-Winter Festival and was the place to be! Families from near and far would come to the festival. Children would play games, eat popcorn and Fairy Floss while their parents won bragging rights for their prized Bull, the best pie, or the most beautiful quilt. In 1915 when Articles of Incorporation for the South Florida Fair and Gasparilla Carnival were filed with the Secretary of State office in Tallahassee, the Fair became known as the Florida State Fair.
In 1975, Florida State Legislature created the Florida State Fair Authority and designated that the Tampa event was the official Florida State Fair. In 1976, the headlines read “A Stadium full of State Fair starts Thursday” as the Florida State Fair moved into the Tampa Stadium aka “The Big Sombrero” and home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while its final location was being created. In February of 1977 the first Fair was held at its current location near Interstate 4 and U.S Highway 301 in eastern Hillsborough County, a 330-acre site, just seven miles from its original downtown Tampa location. Once moving to the East Tampa location, new buildings and barns were erected. A five acre parcel of land on the new fairgrounds was developed into the Mildred W. and Doyle E. Carlton, Jr Cracker Country living history museum. Here, original structures including homes, a general store, railroad depot, print shop and more offer guests a representation of home life, commerce and transportation as it was in many rural Florida communities just before the turn of the 20th century. The museum is open to all during the annual Florida State Fair and during the rest of the year welcomes over 25,000 Tampa Bay area school students.
Today, the Florida State Fair attracts up to 500,000 people in twelve days. Each year Florida residents create exhibits for Aquaculture, Horticulture, Woodcarving, Needlework and more. Over ninety years later and bragging rights are still won for the prized bull, best pie and the most beautiful quilt. The Midway rides provide our visitors with all the thrills and chills they've come to expect. As the first State Fair of the year, we get all the latest and greatest in Fair foods such as the Pizza Cone, Redneck Burger, Bacon Ice Cream, and more! It’s affordable family fun at its best. Nobody does it better than the Florida State Fair!
The Florida State Fair, Always in Tampa, Always in February.