The South Carolina State Fair, formally the State Agricultural and Mechanical Society of South Carolina, was established in 1869 “to promote the material, educational, agricultural and industrial interest of the State.” Two antebellum organizations, both known as the State Agricultural Society of South Carolina, preceded the modern organization. The first operated from 1839 through 1849, and the second operated from 1855 through 1861. Following the November 1861 fair, Confederate authorities occupied the fairgrounds on Elmwood Avenue in Columbia. These fairgrounds buildings were destroyed during the February 1865 burning of the city.
The third society traces its origins to April 28, 1869, when a group of citizens gathered in Columbia to improve the state’s agricultural conditions and methodologies. Members sought to build support for reestablishing the State Fair by organizing statewide lectures. This grassroots campaign succeeded, and the society held its first postwar fair in November 1869 on the Elmwood Avenue site. By 1903 it had outgrown its Elmwood home, and the society purchased a one-hundred-acre tract south of the city for $15,000. The first fair on the modern fairgrounds opened on October 25, 1904. In 1912 the society purchased the Hippodrome Building. Used during the 1907 Jamestown Exposition in Virginia and then moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, to the meeting site of the 1908 National Republican Convention, the exhibit hall was finally moved to Columbia and served as the venue for the 1912 National Corn Show. Fire destroyed the Hippodrome in 1966, and the Hampton and Ruff steel buildings were constructed in its place.
For more than sixty years the State Fair was linked with the “Big Thursday” football classic between the University of South Carolina and Clemson University. The last Big Thursday game was played on November 12, 1959. Although best known for its annual eleven-day autumn carnival with amusement rides, exhibits, live entertainment, juried competitions, and food, the modern State Fair operates year-round. Trade shows, conventions, exhibitions, and special events are held on the society’s 110-acre fairgrounds and in its six permanent buildings with more than 125,000 square feet of exhibit space. The State Fair receives no state appropriations and is wholly owned and operated by dues-paying life members. Revenue supports ongoing operations, capital improvements, a scholarship program, and contributions to nonprofit and charitable organizations throughout the state.
Moore, Paul V. A Brief History of the State Agricultural and Mechanical Society of South Carolina. N.p., 1957.
State Agricultural and Mechanical Society of South Carolina. History of the State Agricultural Society of South Carolina from 1839 to 1845, Inclusive, of the State Agricultural Society of South Carolina from 1855 to 1861, Inclusive, of the State Agricultural and Mechanical Society of South Carolina from 1869 to 1916, Inclusive. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1916.