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North Carolina State Exposition
Plans of Buildings, Rules and Regulations Governing Exhibitors at the North Carolina State Exposition: Raleigh, N.C., October 1st to October 28th, 1884: Also Premium Lists of the North Carolina Agricultural Society and the North Carolina Industrial Association
Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards, Broughton & Co., Steam Printers and Binders, 1884.


This promotional pamphlet for the North Carolina State Exposition in Raleigh provides information for individuals, groups, and counties seeking to visit or exhibit at the event. It opens with a Raleigh visitor's guide and an appeal to North Carolinians to buy stock in support of the event's expansion. The pamphlet contains maps of the exhibition grounds, prices for room and board, travel costs, entrance fees, and lists notable days during the exposition. In addition, it outlines the classification system for exhibitors, which includes departments such as counties, machinery, textiles, scientific, and fine arts. The pamphlet also provides rules for exhibitors' displays as well as a list of agricultural premiums.

The 1884 North Carolina State Exposition (or "state fair," as it is now known) was one of the largest in the event's history up to that time. The North Carolina State Agricultural Society, an organization of the state's leading planter-politicians, founded the week-long exposition in 1853 to promote scientific agriculture among North Carolina farmers, to allow county agricultural societies to extol their community's virtues to their neighbors, and to showcase the state's produce to the rest of the region and the country. The state fair's agricultural boosterism became especially important after the Civil War, as did exhibiting the state's growing manufacturing capabilities to visitors from North Carolina and beyond. Unlike its predecessors, the 1884 fair also promoted educational reform with a display of the state's public and private schools and colleges, for men and women and for white and "colored."

The organizers of the 1884 fair also hoped to build on the recognition North Carolina received for its entry in a recent national exposition in Boston. The 1884 fair, however, had to compete with other state festivals, though officials claimed that "it has never been the purpose of the North Carolina State Exposition Company to attempt a display equal to the display made at Atlanta and Louisville." (p. 1). The Company did appeal to the city of Raleigh, though, for funds to expand the fair's physical structure for a more impressive show. Businesses also sponsored the 1884 fair, as is evident from the many advertisements in the fair bulletins. Farm implement manufacturers also had exhibits at the fair. Some of the latest innovations in grist milling technology are pictured in the bulletin. Overall, the plans of the buildings and grounds make evident both the grand scale and the highly organized nature of the event.

Since its beginnings in the 1850s, the state fair was as much of a social gathering as an educational forum or promotional opportunity. Locating the fair in Raleigh and scheduling the event after the October harvest helped ensure large attendance. Indeed, the 1884 program notes the special discounted fares railroads were offering for patrons and participants and their animals.

Visitors looked forward to the excitement and pageantry of horse racing, rousing speeches, parades, and the close order drills by county militias and military academies commemorating Confederate gallantry. In the 1880s, the fair also added school days with children's activities and 'special attractions' for the older and braver, such as balloon rides, lion tamers, and sideshow freaks. The fair banned gambling and games of chance through the 1880s, but alcohol was available, and often consumed to excess, until the 1900s.

As a final inducement, a select few farmers might take home cash prizes for outstanding livestock while counties competed for awards for the best bale of cotton or bundle of tobacco. This recognition, in turn, might pique the interest of potential buyers. The fair bulletin contains a list of these prizes, or "premiums."

It is also noteworthy that 1884 was the first fair at which the African American North Carolina Industrial Association was allowed to participate, albeit in a segregated category for its farmers. (For more on North Carolina African American state fair, see The Great Negro Fair (1904).

Works Consulted: NC State Exposition, "Plans of Buildings" and "The North Carolina State Exposition" (1884); and Melton McLaurin, "The Nineteenth Century North Carolina State Fair as a Social Institution," North Carolina Historical Review, 59 (Summer 1982), pp. 213-229.

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