The Minnesota Agricultural Society was founded in 1854 with a mission to promote Minnesota agriculture by presenting an annual fair – the first of which was held in 1855 in Minneapolis. Statehood was granted in 1858, and the Society held its first State Fair in 1859, also in Minneapolis.

During the fair’s early years, the site of the exposition changed annually with stops in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, Red Wing, Winona and Owatonna. In the 1870s and early 1880s, civic groups from both St. Paul and Minneapolis worked relentlessly to provide a permanent home for the fair in their respective cities. The Minnesota State Fair finally found a permanent home at its present location in 1885 when Ramsey County donated its 210-acre poor farm to the state for use by the Agricultural Society, the governing body of the State Fair. Secure in its new surroundings, the Minnesota State Fair began to grow. Physically, the fairgrounds blossomed to 320 acres. Architecturally, it is home to many historically significant structures, including the Fine Arts Center, Progress Center, Grandstand, Warner Coliseum and the Agriculture Horticulture Building. 

An important change in the State Fair over the years has been the growing attractions offered to fair visitors. The character of early fairs was dominated by agricultural exhibits and competitions, reflecting its original purpose of encouraging farming in the state. While agriculture is still the primary focus, the scope of activities has broadened to include large-scale entertainment, and exhibits in art, environment, history, government, science and education.