Farmers Get Together: Early County Fairs

Bushels of wheat, yokes of oxen, native cattle, tubs of homemade soap, yards of fine linen cloth, apples, hand-crafted saddles, sturdy wagons— these and much more made up the displays at Iowa's early county fairs.

Time to Show Off

Iowa's European pioneer settlers brought the idea for an agricultural fair with them from their former homes. Not long after European farmers had settled in the state, they got together to hold county fairs. It was a place to show off the best things that people made or raised. Those living on farms or in towns brought their finest products, hoping to win a top prize.

Makers of farm implements and housewares displayed their products at fairs. It was a good way to advertise in a time when people seldom traveled to shop and had no magazines, radios, televisions or the Internet. Products that had won prizes were more likely to be purchased because they were considered to be of high quality.

Learning and Socializing

The county fair provided the best place for farm people to learn better farming methods. Men and women met to share their knowledge and to learn how to raise better livestock and improve crops. Fairs had an important educational purpose.

The county fair also provided a chance for socializing, entertainment and relaxation. For farm dwellers the fair became an important yearly event. As the years passed, county fairs continued to be important educational and social events for rural Iowans.


  • Margaret Atherton Bonney, Ed,, “Farmers Get Together,” The Goldfinch 5, no. 1 (September 1984): 2.