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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Provenance
  • Restrictions on Access
  • Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
  • Preferred Citation
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content Note
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: California Fairs Collection,
    Date (inclusive): 1856-1997
    Date (bulk): (1945-1982 bulk)
    Collection number: MS 009
    Creator: Western Fairs Association, Joint Committee on Fairs Allocations and Classification, and Louis S. Merrill, former director of the Western Fairs Association
    Extent: 94 boxes, one flat file

    Repository: Special Collections, Robert E. Kennedy Library
    California Polytechnic State University
    San Luis Obispo, California 93407
    Abstract: The Western Fairs Association, the California Joint Committee on Fairs Allocation and Classification, and Louis S. Merrill, former director of the Western Fairs Association gave the California Fairs Collection, one of the major archival collections on fairs and fairs management in the Western United States, to Cal Poly in 1982. In addition to extensive material on the management of fairs in California, the collection also contains information on fairs in other Western states, as well as foreign fairs and world fairs. The Fairs Collection contains archival and printed material created in three separate offices: Western Fairs Association, a non-profit trade association; Division of Fairs and Expositions, an agency of the California Department of Food and Agriculture; and the Joint Committee on Fairs Allocations and Classification, a legislative group comprised of seven senators and seven assembly members. In addition, material collected through the years by Louis S. Merrill, director of Western Fairs Association from 1945-1972, has been added to the collection. An additional gift was made in 1999.


    Donated by the Western Fairs Association in 1982 and 1999, this collection housed in and administered by Special Collections at Cal Poly.

    Restrictions on Access

    Collection is open to researchers by appointment. For more information on visiting, access policies, and reproduction requests, please visit our Reference Services page online at http://lib.calpoly.edu/search-and-find/collections-and-archives/reference-services/.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Digital copies are provided to researchers for the purpose of study, research, and personal use only, unless otherwise specified in writing. Materials that are the property of Cal Poly Special Collections and Archives require written permission prior to publication. No complete collection may be reproduced.
    For print and online publication, please visit our Reproduction Services page online at http://lib.calpoly.edu/support/sca-policies/reproduction/. Special Collections and Archives reserves the right to review all reproduction requests and to withhold permission if scanning would endanger the material, would violate copyright law, or would violate institutional restrictions.

    Preferred Citation

    California Fairs Collection, Special Collections, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Calif.


    Western Fairs Association
    The beginning of Western Fairs Association is usually ascribed to a post-World War I meeting at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco where a livestock circuit plan was agreed upon to "help the breeders and fairs" across the state. Records of Western Fairs Association activity begin in 1933, although there are some financial summaries going back to the early 1920s. Annual meetings began in 1939 but were suspended during World War II.
    In California fair history, 1933 is an important year because of the passage by the California voters of the Horse Racing Act, which allowed pari-mutuel betting with a portion of the revenues received by the state to be used for the support of agricultural fairs. From 1859 until 1934, fairs had been partially financed from the state's General Fund. Only eight fairs were in operation in 1933. By 1946 there were seventy-six.
    In 1945 the Association was incorporated, a central office was established, and Louis S. Merrill, former Assistant Manager of the Fresno District Fair, was appointed General Manager.
    For twenty-seven years Merrill was the chief executive officer of the Western Fairs Association. (See the Fair Dealer periodical for an accounting of his many accomplishments, especially the June/July 1972 issue.) Most notable among his contributions are the regular publication of a fairs trade journal as well as the annual Date List, the area concept of organization, the development of the judges' conference, the beginning of a lobbying group called Californians for Fairs, the Industry Purchase Plan, the fair management course at Cal Poly, the alliance with the vocational education program, and the continuing effective influence on the legislature in Sacramento.
    The following people succeeded Merrill: William Clayton, 1972-1975; Robert R. Stern, 1975-1980; John J. Fitzpatrick, 1981-1983; and Kim Myrman, 1984-present. Early important staff members include: Rose E. Links, Secretary-Treasurer, 1943-1962; Joe Blenkle, Program and Service Division, 19 -1978; and Bonnie Scotland Merrill, Secretary, 1952-1973. In 1981 Western Fairs Association had 1,215 members including 887 fair managers and directors, and 328 corporate concessionaires or service members.
    Western Fairs Association membership categories include:
    Active Members: Individual fairs organized under provisions of the state
    Associate Members: Fairs organized and located outside of California
    Service Members: Business individuals or organizations which provide supplies, services and/or entertainment for fairs
    Affiliate Members: Horse breeding associations, community fairs, privately owned fairs, rodeos, etc.
    Joint Committee on Fairs Allocation and Classification
    This committee was established in 1959 by an amendment to Section 92.7 of the State Agricultural Code. At that time, it replaced a fairs classification committee that had been created in 1955 and whose membership was made up of elected fair officials and representatives of the division of Fairs and Exposition and the Department of Finance. Since 1959, it has been composed of seven senators and seven members of the assembly. Its first chair was Senator Edwin J. Regan, 1959-1973, followed by Assembly Member Pauline L. Davis, 1973-1977. Brian L. Davie has served as chief consultant since 1971.
    The Committee has been given the authority by law to "investigate, study and analyze any and all facts relating to the operation and financing of (state-supported) fairs." It holds hearings regularly throughout the state and issues reports.
    Division of Fairs and Exposition
    Established under the Department of Agriculture, this Division was transferred to the Department of Finance in the 1930s. In 1965, it became an agency of the Department of Food and Agriculture. The Division is responsible for the preparation of the annual Master Premium List, a manual prescribed by law "to assist in administering the offering and payment of awards" for each category of competition at state-supported fairs, from beef cattle to vegetables to domestic science.
    A.E. Snider, Thomas E. Blair, Ray Harrington, George J. Gomes, and John Fitzpatrick have provided leadership of the Division through the years. Harrington is best remembered as the person who did the research on the Horse Racing Act of 1933, which made the present system of fairs possible.
    The division deals with the administration of state-supported fairs, except the California State Fair, now called CAL EXPO, which in the early 1960s was moved to the Department of Parks and Recreation.
    Fair Dealer, June/July 1972

    Scope and Content Note

    The Western Fairs Association, the California Joint Committee on Fairs Allocation and Classification, and Louis S. Merrill, former director of the Western Fairs Association gave the California Fairs Collection, one of the major archival collections on fairs and fairs management in the Western United States, to Cal Poly in 1982.
    The material was originally collected by Western Fairs Association as the Fair Industry Library Project "to centralize all the printed information relating to the fair industry." Material was solicited from individual fairs and persons involved in fairs. As the project grew, it became clear that the material would benefit students as well as fair industry personnel if it were housed in the library at Cal Poly State University. The materials were transferred to the Special Collections Department in July of 1982.
    In September of 1984, archival consultants Lynn A. Bonfield and Karen R. Lewis were hired to process the collection and prepare a descriptive guide according to archival standards. Bonfield and Lewis appraised, arranged, and described the 108 records transfer boxes of archival and manuscript material, publications, photographs, audio recordings, films, and artifacts. By eliminating duplicates and material not directly related to fairs as well as by transferring complete sets of serials and examples of fine printing about the various world fairs to the book stacks in Special Collections, the collection was reduced to 88 boxes (129 linear feet) and one flat file. An additional gift in 1999 brought the collection to 95 boxes total.
    When the material was originally gathered by Western Fairs Association, no notice was given to provenance of the records so it was unclear from which office a folder originated. As well, records had not been kept in the order in which the creating office filed them. Before preparing this descriptive guide, the archival consultants attempted to determine the office of origin of the records and to recreate the filing system within each of these offices.
    Particularly difficult was the material donated by Louis S. Merrill, which was not designated as such. Merrill material dating before 1973 has been incorporated into Western Fairs Association files since for the most part it was created in his role as head of that organization.
    It is expected that the users of the collection will include students in the fair management course at Cal Poly as well as staff members of the agencies promoting fairs and fair personnel. Subjects which are strong in the collection include: history of fairs in California and the West, the California legislative process, changes in emphasis of fairs on agriculture and technology, horse racing and betting, promotion of vocational education through fairs, the placement of fair management courses within the university system, the use of public relations and marketing in administering a state-wide trade association, the history of concessions and entertainment, changes in public opinion toward the treatment of animals, fair-site ecology, and youth activities like 4H. This list identifies some of the obvious research areas; many more exist.
    The Fairs Collection is divided into eight series:
    Western Fairs Association
    Division of Fairs and Expositions
    Joint Committee on Fairs Allocation and Classification
    Printed Materials
    Visual Media
    Audio Media
    Additional Donations
    The archives of the Western Fairs Association is housed in 33 boxes with the most extensive portion being subseries 1, Office Files, 1940-1982, containing directors' files, financial records, subject folders and correspondence. Subseries 5, Mailings, 1945-1966, contains a copy of every mass mailing from the Western Fairs Association central office including press releases, memos and announcements. Copies of all Assembly and Senate bills relating to fairs are found in subseries 06, which includes correspondence and position papers as well. There are four boxes for the Division of Fairs and Expositions, mainly office files and copies of the annual Master Premium List from 1938 through 1980.
    Thirteen boxes contain material from the Joint Committee on Fairs Allocation and Classification including hearing transcripts from 1954-1982. There are nine boxes of printed material including serials and publications from the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, the Canadian fair associations, and reports from California executive and legislative agencies. Printed materials relating to horse racing, Cal Expo and vocational education have been grouped together in each subject.
    Twenty-two boxes contain visual media material, mainly prints and slides relating to California fairs. There are three boxes each of audio media and material culture. The audio media are mainly recordings of hearings of the Joint Committee and annual meetings of Western Fairs Association. Items in the material culture files include posters, bumper stickers, buttons, ribbons and other memorabilia.
    An oral history interview with Louis S. Merrill was completed in the fall of 1985. The transcripts of these interviews are also housed in Special Collections at Cal Poly.
    Where possible, the provenance, or original organization, of the papers has been preserved. However, in order to simplify access to the collection for researchers, some materials in specific formats and topics were reorganized and refoldered to more accurately reflect their contents.

    The Western Fairs Association partially funded the arrangement and description of this collection.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Merrill, Louis Strong -- Correspondence.
    Western Fairs Association.
    Western Fairs Association -- Correspondence.
    California. Division of Fairs and Expositions.
    California. Legislature. Joint Committee on Fairs Allocation and Classification.
    California State Fair and Exposition.
    Agricultural exhibitions -- California.
    Agricultural exhibitions -- Economic aspects -- California.
    Agricultural exhibitions -- California -- Finance.
    Fairs -- California.
    Fairs -- West (U.S.)
    Agricultural education -- California.
    Agriculture -- Study and teaching -- California.
    Horses -- Breeding -- California.
    Horse racing -- California.
    Printed ephemera -- California.
    Merrill, Louis Strong.
    McPhee, Julian A.
    California. Division of Fairs and Expositions.
    California. Legislature. Joint Committee on Fairs Allocation and Classification.

    Genre and Forms of Materials

    Printed material
    Visual materials
    Audio materials

    Related Material

    Materials Cataloged Separately
    The following titles have been cataloged with MARC records and transferred into the book stacks of Special Collections:
    Amusement Business. New York: BPI, 1961-
    College of Fairs. Fair Management. Sacramento: Western Fairs Association, 1946.
    Fair Dealer. Sacramento: Western Fairs Association, 1945-1999.
    Forster, G.W., and Marc C. Leager. Elements of Agricultural Economics. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1950.
    Golden, Hal, and Kitty Hanson. The Techniques of Working with the Working Press. Dobbs Ferry [N.Y.]: Oceana, 1962.
    Merrill, Louis Strong. Interview with Gabrielle Morris. 1985. A Lifetime at the Fair: California Local, District, and State Fairs, 1920-1972. Oral history ms. Regional Oral History Office, Bancroft Library, U of California, Berkeley, 1987.
    Security Pacific National Bank. The Financial and Economic Impact of the California Fair Industry. 1975. Los Angeles: Dept. of Economic Research, Security Pacific National Bank, 1982. [Sponsored by the Western Fairs Assoc.]
    Western Fairs Association Update. Sacramento: Western Fairs Association, 1985-1997.