Florida State Fair is Rich in Tradition since 1904
Always in Tampa, Always in February
At the time the Florida State Fair began, attractions were simple. There were five races to bet on and the agricultural exhibits were displayed in just one building.
Tampa's notoriety during the Spanish Civil War still attracted some visitors, but the Tampa Bay Hotel's status as a grande luxe resort began to wane. In 1904 fresh blood came to the hotel in the form of T.J. Laud-Brown, manager. He convinced the city fathers and the rail line they needed to bring about a South Florida Fair to be held on the grounds of the hotel.
By July of 1904 the South Florida Fair Association was formalized and plans for a new exhibition were proposed. But the excitement could not be contained in one building, there was also a stadium, coliseum, and stock stalls to be built.
After a few short years it became known as the Mid-Winter Festival. In 1915, when Articles of Incorporation for the South Florida Fair and Gasparilla Carnival were filed with the Secretary of State's office in Tallahassee, the Fair became known simply as the Florida State Fair.
Except for a couple of years during World War II, when it would have been inappropriate to hold a festival, the Fair has been held every year since its inception in 1904. In its first years, the Fair took place on a two-acre plot in downtown Tampa, near the University of Tampa. At the time, Tampa's renowned Gasparilla Parade started and ended at the fairgrounds site.
In 1975, the Florida Legislature created the Florida State Fair Authority and designated the annual event in Tampa as the official Florida State Fair. In 1976, the Fair moved to its current 355-acre site, seven miles from its original downtown location. (The original purchase was 276 acres; 49 additional acres were purchased in 1982; six acres were sold in 1998; 17 acres were leased to Clear Channel Entertainment in 2004; and additional acreage was bought from Jim Ferman in 2005.) In February 1977, the first Fair was held at its current location, at the intersection of Interstate 4 and U.S. Highway 301 in eastern Hillsborough County.
In 1995, the Florida State Legislature eliminated the original Florida State Fair Authority, putting the fairgrounds and the Fair under the administration of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The Legislature also authorized Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford to appoint 21 members to the Fair's Board of Directors and select an executive director. Crawford named George Steinbrenner to chair the board and Rick Vymlatil to serve as executive director. Crawford and Vymlatil remained in those positions for six and eight years respectively, and Steinbrenner resigned as chairman in mid-2000.
Heading into its 109th year, the Florida State Fair is organized under the leadership of Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam H. Putnam, Chairman A.D. Doyle Carlton III, and Executive Director Charles C. "Chuck" Pesano.