Reminiscing: The NC State Fair During the 40s and 50s

Ever wonder what the North Carolina State Fair was like in the 1940s and 1950s? Check out this archived video and vintage photos from the State Archives of North Carolina.

This untitled film footage was shot by an amateur photographer at the North Carolina State Fair sometime during the 1940s. It shows animal acts, car races, stunt driving, the midway with burlesque shows, and other fair events. The North Carolina State Archives, part of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, has both VHS video and digital copies of this footage available to the public.

Taking a look back in time at the NC State Fair

The North Carolina State Fair was first held by the NC State Agricultural Society in 1853 a mile east of the State Capitol Building between Hargett and Davie Streets. Admission was just a mere 25 cents and lasted for four days. In 1873, the fair was moved to a larger site across from NC State University. In 1884, electricity was first used at the fairgrounds. In 1891 the first ride, the Switchback Railway, was constructed on the fairgrounds. In 1900 the first food booths popped up that was run by churches and civic groups as fundraisers.

The NC State Fairgrounds in 1904.

The main attraction ins 1910 was the first airplane exhibit. In 1918 the fair was cancelled due to World War I and there was a large influenza pandemic. After the State Agricultural Society disbanded in 1925, the Fair was placed under the control of the Department of Agriculture in 1928 and moved to the present site of the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, North Carolina.

President Harry Truman visited the NC State Fair in 1948 while running for a second term. More than 75,000 people gathered to hear the president speak.

Crowds gathering at the Midway on October 15th, 1951.

Oooh, La La! Marine veterans from the First Marine Division in Korea chatting with a female performer in “Broadway to Hollywood” on of the NC State Fair’s attractions on October 17, 1951.

Bumper cars! (October 1940)

Who doesn’t love a foot long hot dog? (October 19, 1955)

Great view of the NC State Fair on October 16, 1958. I bet this photo was taken from the ferris wheel.

Aerial acrobatics from a helicopter amaze the crowds below on October 16, 1958. Performed by Jewell Howell known as one of the stars of the “Queens of The Sky” which played the 1939 Worlds Fair. Captain Tiebors’ trained seal seems to really love meeting her!

Two ladies enjoying a ride on the ferris wheel on October 16, 1958.

You might want to eat that footlong hotdog after this ride. Onlookers watching the rides on October 16, 1958.

Before Elvis was really famous, he performed at the NC State Fair in October 1958. My friend Shelby Rogers loves to tell her story of when she first met Elvis at the State Fair. She said he kissed her hand and she didn’t wash her hand for days!

Worlds Largest Clam! October 9, 1960

Nothing could be finer an old time favorite of cotton candy and a candied apples at the State Fair! I always bought extra to take home with me. (October 18, 1955)

North Carolina’s own Jim Graham, former Commissioner of Agriculture, in the Dorton Arena at the State Fairgrounds. He now has a building named after him, The Jim Graham Building! When Jim Graham was a student at NC State University, he met his future wife at the NC State Fair.

The “World of Mirth – World’s Largest Midway” entrance gate at the NC State Fairgrounds in 1941.

The waterfall just inside Gate 11 at the NC State Fair where the Administration Building now stands. It was a popular meeting place and was finished just in time for the 1940 fair. This is where Jim Graham stated he met his wife under the lights of the waterfall.

The State Fair Livestock Pavilion, now known as the J.S. Dorton Arena, was the worlds first column-free roof and was considered a modern marvel in 1952.

We hope you enjoyed these great vintage photos of the North Carolina State Fair. If you would like to explore more, visit the NC State Archives website on Flickr!

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Hope Thompson
Hope Thompson

Hope Thompson is the editor and publisher of Unmasked History Magazine. She has been a freelance journalist for seven years and has published articles for popular media websites such as Her focus has been on the hidden history, Native American culture, Appalachian and Southern folklore traditions.

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