Agricultural mission ties Penn State and PA Farm Show together

January 13, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – In January 1917, about 5,000 people traveled to Harrisburg to learn about the latest in agricultural products and machinery. That first farm show, called the “Pennsylvania Corn, Fruit, Vegetable, Dairy Producers and Wool Show,” offered attendees free admission to 44 commercial exhibits and 440 competitive exhibits.

Nearly 100 years later, the Pennsylvania Farm Show is the nation's largest indoor agricultural event, attracting over half a million visitors annually. This year’s event – featuring nearly 300 commercial and 10,000 competitive exhibits – is being held Jan. 9-16, at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center in Harrisburg, just off Exit 67 of Interstate 81. The complex encompasses 24 acres under one roof, spread throughout eleven buildings and including three arenas.

The PA Farm Show has its roots in the days of William Penn, who in 1686 stressed the importance of agriculture by displaying farm products at the Philadelphia Fair. A century later, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture was organized and began holding agricultural shows. The first State Fair was held in 1851, and with new breeding and crop-growing techniques and more efficient farm equipment, agricultural fairs became increasingly popular.

PA Farm Show equipment on display, 1931

Farming equipment on display at the 1931 Pennsylvania Farm Show.

IMAGE: Penn State University Archives

However, as the State Fairs grew into a form of entertainment for the general population, farmers began to ask for a show that was truly devoted to agriculture, leading ultimately to the creation of the first PA Farm Show  in 1917.

From that time onward, Penn State has played an integral part at the PA Farm Show. The University's mission has always included disseminating information about the latest developments in agriculture. Faculty, extension educators and specialists, staff and students, participate – often behind the scenes – in keeping the show up and running. They serve on the many operational committees, and assist in selecting, installing and staffing exhibits. They check awards lists, assist 4-H club members, judges and exhibitors, and help with media coverage, as they help to educate both the public and the agricultural world.

In addition, the College of Agricultural Sciences hosts exhibits and presentations each year, on such topics as food safety, home gardening, bioenergy and 4-H programs.

Fun fact: For the 1955 event, a four-foot-high model of Old Main was created out of mashed potatoes to celebrate Penn State's 100th anniversary.

Find out more about the show at the PA Farm Show website.

1926 PA Farm Show apple exhibit

An apple exhibit at the 1926 Pennsylvania Farm Show.

IMAGE: Penn State University Archives


  • The Pennsylvania Farm Show in 1949

    At the 1949 Pennsylvania Farm Show.

    IMAGE: Penn State University Archives

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated February 05, 2016