State Fair Beginnings

The California State Fair has its origins in the dream of one man to encourage and develop the state’s agricultural potential. His name was James Lloyd La Fayette Franklin Warren, a horticulturist and merchant from Massachusetts who came to California in 1849 as a gold rusher. After operating a store at Mormon Island he moved to Sacramento, where he opened two storefronts on J Street. As Warren & Company, he sold general merchandise, groceries and miner’s goods. His New England Seed Store next door offered seeds, shrubs, fruit and ornamental trees, and bulbs. In 1852, Mr. Warren sponsored an exposition he called the Great Agricultural Fair at his seed store, featuring nursery products and mineral collections. He offered prizes for outstanding entries, and lectures on various agriculture-related subjects. The venture was so successful that he held a larger show in San Francisco the following year, and relocated there permanently after his nursery was destroyed in Sacramento’s April 1853 flood. In December 1853, James Warren announced he would publish The California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences, to supply readers with the most practical and useful techniques for farming.  He didn’t stop there. Undaunted by the fact that legislative representation of mining districts outweighed that of agricultural interests, Warren lobbied and prodded legislators, arguing that it was absurd to continue spending millions of dollars annually on imported foods when more efficient agricultural programs would produce abundant supplies. He succeeded. In1854, the legislature created the State Agricultural Society, which dispatched visiting committees to examine all farms, orchards, vineyards, nurseries, field crops, mining claims and mills throughout the state that might be entered for competition at the State Agricultural Exhibitions, which was sponsored annually, for decades, by the State Agricultural Society. Over the years, its successor agencies evolved into the current California State Fair.

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