Food, entertainment, shopping, agriculture and family fun all in celebration of our great New England States. The Big E has something to offer for everyone, but it wasn’t always this way. Lauren Zenzie, Co-Host of “Mass Appeal” takes us back to 1916 where it all began.
Opening day 1916. Admission one dollar
for adults, twenty-five cents for kids. The Eastern States Agricultural and Industrial Exposition opened its doors to spread the word and bring agriculture to the region.
“So a fellow by the name of Joshua Loring Brooks came to Springfield in the late 1800s, and he opened up a business called the Brooks Bank Note Company and he was a lithographer. Very, very successful. And as the last century turned, he recognized that agriculture in New England was really struggling as the big farms out in the Midwest were taking over food production,” says The Big E’s President, Gene Cassidy. “So our farmers in New England have to be very innovative in order to make a living. And Eastern States continues to be a place where they can exchange innovation and ideas to be able to be the best they can be.”
From the beginning, Joshua Brooks built the coliseum in a rather quick form in hopes of becoming an agricultural springboard for the fair, and it did just that.
The national dairy show hosted their big event in western Massachusetts, launching the start of the Big E. From the start, the focus of the fair was agriculture. And while the men were at the fair doing business, women and their daughters were able to get involved, too, with the dairy princess competition.
Post-World War II was the perfect time for vendors to come on down to the fair to start advertising their latest and greatest products.
“A lot of manufacturing companies would come to the fair to release new products,” Cassidy says. “For example, things we take for granted today are things that our grandparents and great-grandparents experienced here for the first time.
“Women’s voting. Mrs. Storrow had lessons on how women could vote when they got to vote in the 1920s.
“Whirlpool, General Electric, Westinghouse. They would bring their latest and greatest innovations to the fair to introduce people to how they could improve their lifestyle. That’s how the fair really began to bring in all of the vendors that we see here today with the latest and greatest things you didn’t know you couldn’t live without until you came to the Big E.”
Throughout time, agriculture has remained a staple of the Big E, in hopes of continuously educating our youth.
“It’s ever more important today, especially more today than when we started because our connection to food and what people in the industry call food literacy, “Cassidy says. “Most people have a vague notion of where their food comes from. And that’s not good for us.
“A couple of generations ago Massachusetts was producing twenty-five to thirty percent of the food that it consumed. Today, we produce about one percent. And what happens is that with each generation we get further and further away from our agrarian roots. Young people don’t realize that milk doesn’t come from the grocery store, it actually comes from a farm. And our mission here is to do our best to educate, provide opportunities for people to be aware of where their food is so they can make healthy choices.”
Since the 1940s, fair-goers have witnessed baby chicks hatching right before their very eyes in the farm-a-rama. The beautiful and famous Hallamore Clydesdales came in the 1970s.
In the 1950s, all six New England state house colonial era replicas were built, with the Rhode Island building being the last building constructed, making its debut in 1957.
Jump forward to 1967 when the Eastern States Exposition officially created the Big E title.
One hundred years ago, about forty-five thousand people came to the fair; compared to the one and a half million people today.
But some things haven’t changed at the fair like some of the rides that have been there for decades, and some of the sweet treats that have been pleasing the crowds at the fair for over 100 years.
The circus at the fair has been around for decades featuring high flying talent, larger than life animals and thrilling acrobatics. The circus tent currently hosts three shows per day, but get in line early because the seats fill up.
“Family is what we’re all about,” Cassidy says. “And as we stand here looking around, all we can see is families and kids with their parents and grandparents. That is heartwarming because people come here because they want to be here. This is Americana at its best. And in this world that is very stressed, this is a great place to know that this is how life is supposed to be.”
With over one million people in attendance each year, there truly is something for everyone. It’s the perfect place to bring the entire family and spend the whole day.
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