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FAIR HISTORY IN THE GOLDEN STATE - 1938
By Jimmy Huntsman

STATE and county fairs have, from early times to the present, been largely responsible for the continuance of light harness racing. Their growth has been dependent on each other to a great extent, for harness racing has long been considered the fair's leading attraction. This is as true in California as elsewhere.


The first agricultural show in the United States was held in 1809, at Georgetown, near Washington. Forty-five years later California used the pattern of this first show to hold its first state fair. In September of this year, the eighty-fourth anniversary will occur.


In 1854, only four years after admission of the state into the Union, ten men met in San Francisco and laid plans that led to the State Agricultural Society, sponsoring organization of the fair. F. W. Macondray, a San Francisco ship broker and commission merchant, was the society's first president. In the fall of the same year the first state fair was held in a hall on the corner of Bush and Montgomery Streets in San Francisco. It was necessarily a limited showing, some of the exhibits being late because of delays of mule and ox freight teams. The teams in some instances were on the road two weeks. Little did San Francisco realize that this first attempt was the forerunner of an eventual $600,000,000 annual agricultural income to California—the result of selling the world on the state's farm products.


While the state was still in the throes of the Marshall gold rush, the second state fair in 1855, was brought to Sacramento, probably because Captain John A. Sutter, the city's founder, was vice-president of the Agricultural Society. But by 1856, at the time of the third fair in San Jose, necessity of diversifying California's treasure hunt was demonstrated in a statement at the fair by Colonel J. B. Crockett, who declared:


"An experience of eight years, during which we have dug and shipped an enormous amount of gold, out of which we have saved so little, ought to convince us that we will never get rich by this process. In this respect we furnish the most striking illustration that history affords, of bow little the precious metals add to the wealth of the people, in the absence of agricultural and mechanical industry."


Stockton was host to the fourth state fair in the San Joaquin County courthouse. The fifth fair was at Marysville, where the racing program was run off on the near-by C. S. Ellis ranch. In 1859, the fair was returned to Sacramento, where a year later, after a spirited battle with Oakland, it was voted to make the capital the exposition's permanent home.


World-wide fame of the state's productions was obtained when the Agricultural Society sponsored an exhibit at the 1867 World's Fair in Paris. Four commissioners returned with seven awards for California, including three silver medals.


By 1871, the Society was responsible for the displaying of California fruits in more. than twelve states. By 1873, the fair had begun to attract large showings of blooded horses and cattle. At that exposition, a prize herd from Missouri drew considerable attention. Premiums amounted to $24,569.


By 1880, the value of the state fair as an educational institution bad become so pronounced that the legislature authorized the formation of agricultural districts, each with power to form an organization for developing its own area. This system still is in effect today and is used as a sponsoring agency for district and county fairs, each a build-up for its larger brother, the state fair.


The fair continued to grow until it reached its greatest height in 1937. In comparison to the $4,666 paid out in premiums at the first fair in 1854, premiums, prizes and purses totaled $145,000 last year. The premier of 83 successful fairs was a long cry from the initial exposition, as 600,941 persons jammed through the gates.


Today there are 148 buildings on the 155 acres of state fair grounds, representing an investment of better than $3,000,000. The fair now embraces fifteen departments, covering the state's principal activities.


Elsewhere in this issue, is an announcement for the 84th California State Fair that will surely be of interest to harness horsemen, many of whom plan to race on the coast for the first time and who naturally will get in touch with Robert Muckler, the secretary-manager.


And now, something about this human dynamo, known as Robert Muckler, who was unanimously elected by his board of directors to serve a second year as secretary-manager of the state fair! During his first year he rejuvenated the fair to give it a $2,000,000 major building program, revamped attractions to lift grandstand entertainment to new levels and challenged the state's horse racing meets with a thrill-packed ten-day program.


This man has been working at top speed since the day be was first appointed. Purchase of more land, direction of a greatly expanded grounds beautification, enlistment of new exhibitor support, plans to make the grounds available the year around for state-wide organization, also encouragement of livestock breeders to take advantage of the fair's facilities as a hub of the West's blooded livestock sales, are some of the additional activities in which he has engaged.


A decision indicative of the secretary-manager's personality was his analysis of the job before him. He won his points in the "speed-up" that followed with the support of Governor Merriam, the legislature, Director of State Finance, Arlin E. Stockburger, and the fair directors.


Muckler was vice-president of the Bank of America several years, and prior to that was a state bank examiner. Born in Iowa, he spent his first 21 years in agricultural and livestock pursuits. He came to Sacramento from Hollywood, where his alertness for ideas and inclination to create something new won for him the friendship of Sid Grauman, widely known impressario of the show world.


Always interested in publicity and advertising, the secretary-manager won valuable experience in radio direction when he was "M C" several years of a radio "frolic hour," a program that won world-wide reception.


Valuable experience was also attained in the promotion of fairs and expositions in both Iowa and southern California. Muckler's promotional abilities were demonstrated a few years back in southern California when he took a leading part in the organization of a non-profit race track embracing 620 acres and the possibility of adding America's greatest steeplechase course. Millionaire sportsmen had pledged $1,500,000 to the project with the stipulation that the state's share should accrue to a state old-age pension fund. However, application for this track was denied.


Muckler has a vision of bringing the California State Fair to a position of an annual world's fair and exposition, an ambition in which he has the confidence of those who build with him. The first year of his tenure as secretary-manager more than 600,000 persons attended and the parimutuels clicked to the tune of approximately $300,000.


Major buildings now under construction will amount to $2,000,000. Projects to be completed for the 1938 exposition are: extension of the grandstand, construction of administration headquarters, assembly building and dairy products building. Approximately $25,000 each for harness and running reces—a total of $50,000—will be offered in 1938, representing a $10,000 increase over 1937.

State Fair

A typical race crowd at the California State Fair.