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America's Wackiest State Fair Contests

Wisconsin dairy farmers don’t come to the state fair merely to show off their prize cattle. Some are among the 75 contestants prepared to take the microphone and let loose their moo imitations (bonus points for wearing a cow costume).

Better at hog calling or scarfing down cream puffs? Those contests, like the mooing one and dozens more, take place during the 10-day Wisconsin State Fair. All across America, contests are an essential part of state fairs and keep people coming back each summer. Some involve tried-and-true skills like horseback riding, while other contests are so wacky they almost need to be seen to be believed.

Contests have been state fair hallmarks from the start, when New York held America’s first fair in 1841. Designed to promote agriculture, it showcased livestock displays, exhibitions of new farming equipment, and a plowing contest. Livestock, vegetable-growing, and recipe showdowns sprung up at other fairs and are still major draws, sometimes with modern-day revisions.

At the Iowa State Fair, a women’s rolling-pin-tossing contest morphed over time to a rubber-chicken toss. “A few misguided throws and you can guess why it evolved,” says marketing director Lori Chappell. In Utah, the state fair still focuses on livestock and horticulture, but the biggest smell of success emanates from its Rotten Sneaker Contest, whose judges rate each part of the shoe for its stink.

Whether or not they have an agricultural bent, America’s wackiest state fair contests continue a tradition of low-tech, homegrown challenges, observes Neva Hutchinson, event coordinator at the Oregon State Fair. Its Milk Mustache Contest gives kids the perfect excuse to gulp down their milk and get messy—while proud parents snap photographs of the little champs.

Silly? Of course. These kinds of contests, created strictly for kicks, prove that people will do just about anything for a little fame and, sometimes, fortune. Average Joes get a few minutes in the spotlight, but they need some above-average combination of inhibition and true skill. “Contests and competitions celebrate what we do best as novices or avid professionals,” says Jaime Parr, the Nebraska State Fair facilities director. “Each one is a chance to educate and entertain fairgoers.”

So don’t be a party pooper. Join the crowds—and maybe even the competitors—at America’s wackiest state fair contests.

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