Every county or state fair is a little bit different, with its own specialties and traditions. But what they all share is an ability to invoke the carefree joys of childhood on a hot summer day. Sugary treats like funnel cake and cotton candy mix with salty piles of popcorn. Carnival rides and midway games steal away the time—and kids’ hard-earned allowances. For days on end, communities celebrate what makes their town or region special with cultural showcases, culinary competitions, animal husbandry and maybe even a demolition derby or two.

With the fair’s roots dating back to biblical times, when merchants and pilgrims would gather from across the land to barter goods and enjoy their commonalities, the first American fair, as we think of it today, started in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in September 1811. From then on, similar festivals spread across the country, with tens of millions of people, young and old, attending them each year.

Take a look and relive your childhood with these photos of Americana at its best.

Carousels’ predecessors date back to the sixth century, and they’re still popular fair and amusement park rides today. Jeffry Zelt, California, 2016
Friend Onion Rings
The fair is more fun with friends—even if you have to share your fried onion. Steven Edson, Massachusetts, 2016
Blur Riders
Riders turn into a blur as they are flung high around this fair attraction.

  Susan Vizvary, New Mexico, 2017
Young Girl with Stuffed Animals
How will she get these home, and where will she put them? A young girl has some decisions to make while checking out large stuffed animals at the fair. Neysa Camacho, New Jersey, 2019

Sunny Blue Skies
Sunny, blue skies create perfect conditions to enjoy a day at the fair. Tim Evans, Minnesota, 2021
Boys Playing Fair Games
Two boys put their skills to the test and aim for the target in hopes of winning a prize. Jeffry Zelt, California, 2018

Bucking Bronco
A cowboy holds on to the reins as a bucking horse tries to unseat him. Andrew Turck, Montana, 2018
Big Kids at the Fair
Even big kids like to stretch their imaginations and play dress-up at the fair.

  Eric Davidove, California, 2021

Cows at the Fair
Animals of all kinds are common attractions at most county and state fairs. Here, a cow is being judged for a competition. Jeffry Zelt, California, 2019
An icy treat is a great way to beat the heat when enjoying the fair. Megan Landmeier, Virginia, 2017

Goldfish in a bag
Who needs a stuffed animal when you can win a real one? A goldfish is the prize for this fairgoer who now has a living trophy to care for. Steven Edson, Massachusetts, 2016
Ride at the Fair
Harnesses are a must on fair rides that can twist, dip or turn brave riders upside down. Hold on to your hats! Lorie Null, Mississippi, 2009

Trio of Cousins
A trio of young cousins walk arm in arm toward the Ferris wheel, a favorite ride at most county and state fairs. Mindy McNeely, Oregon, 2018
Sun setting over the Fair
The sun begins to set and lights shine bright as people continue to enjoy the fair attractions. Sally Sa, California, 2016

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