A historic look back at the Big E’s 1916 debut

Read about the history and see the decades old photos

Old Big E Swing Ride
Image Credit: Eastern States Exposition
Old Big E Swing Ride Image Credit: Eastern States Exposition

WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – It’s the Big E’s Centennial Celebration. New England’s Great State Fair is packed with music, food, rides and vendors, but that’s not how it started 100 years ago.

The Big E Admission Gates Image Credit: Eastern States Exposition
The Big E Admission Gates Image Credit: Eastern States Exposition

The Eastern States Exposition opened in 1916. The price of Admission was $1 for adults and just $.25 for kids. It was founded by Joshua L. Brooks, as a way to bring all six New England States together, while promoting agriculture in the region.

In order to launch the Big E, Brooks built the Colesium.  He used it to convince the National Dairy Show to hold their big event in western Massachusetts.  The event had traditionally been held in Chicago, and had never been east of the Mississippi River.

Securing such a huge event in western Massachusetts put our agricultural fair, and the town of West Springfield on the map.

Chick Hatchery Historic Photograph
Chick Hatchery Historic Photograph Image Credit: Eastern States Exposition

22News talked to Gene Cassidy, President and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition. He told us Brooks held contests designed to encourage farmers to better themselves through competition.

Cassidy said although women got their hands dirty, and worked on the farms, Brooks launched the Dairy Princess Competition in the 40’s as another way for women and their children to get involved.

Also in the ’40s, the Chick Hatchery came to the Big E. The hatchery allowed fair goers to witness baby chicks hatching right before their eyes in the Farm-A-Rama.


Continuing Coverage: The Big E’s 100th Anniversary


To guard against the spread of Avian Flu, The Eastern States Exposition suspended the Chick Hatchery last year.

However, Brooks vision really became a reality in the 1950’s when all six replicas of the New England State Houses were finally completed. Rhode Island was the last state house to be built, completing the Avenue of States in 1957.

avenue-of-states
Historic Avenue of States Photo Image Credit: Eastern States Exposition

Flash-forward to 1967, When the Eastern States Exposition officially created “The Big E” title. The name changed, and so did the crowd.

Cassidy told 22News there were 45,000 attendees for the Eastern States Exposition’s debut year in 1916.  This year, they’re expecting more than 1.5 million.

The 2016 Big E runs from September 16th to October 2nd. For information, to buy tickets or to learn what events are scheduled at the 2016 Big E, Click Here. 

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