California Fairs Collection, MS 009
Scope and Content Note
The Western Fairs Association, the California Joint Committee on Fairs Allocation and Classification, and Louis S. Merrill, former director of the Western Fairs Association gave the California Fairs Collection, one of the major archival collections on fairs and fairs management in the Western United States, to Cal Poly in 1982.
The material was originally collected by WFA as the Fair Industry Library Project "to centralize all the printed information relating to the fair industry." Material was solicited from individual fairs and persons involved in fairs. As the project grew, it became clear that the material would benefit students as well as fair industry personnel if it were housed in the library at Cal Poly State University. The materials were transferred to the Special Collections Department in July of 1982.
In September of 1984, archival consultants Lynn A. Bonfield and Karen R. Lewis were hired to process the collection and prepare a descriptive guide according to archival standards. Bonfield and Lewis appraised, arranged, and described the 108 records transfer boxes of archival and manuscript material, publications, photographs, audio recordings, films, and artifacts. By eliminating duplicates and material not directly related to fairs as well as by transferring complete sets of serials and examples of fine printing about the various world fairs to the book stacks in Special Collections, the collection was reduced to 88 boxes (129 linear feet) and one flat file. An additional gift in 1999 brought the collection to 95 boxes total.
When the material was originally gathered by WFA, no notice was given to provenance of the records so it was unclear from which office a folder originated. As well, records had not been kept in the order in which the creating office filed them. Before preparing this descriptive guide, the archival consultants attempted to determine the office of origin of the records and to recreate the filing system within each of these offices.
Particularly difficult was the material donated by Louis S. Merrill, which was not designated as such. Merrill material dating before 1973 has been incorporated into WFA files since for the most part it was created in his role as head of that organization.
It is expected that the users of the collection will include students in the fair management course at Cal Poly as well as staff members of the agencies promoting fairs and fair personnel. Subjects which are strong in the collection include: history of fairs in California and the West, the California legislative process, changes in emphasis of fairs on agriculture and technology, horse racing and betting, promotion of vocational education through fairs, the placement of fair management courses within the university system, the use of public relations and marketing in administering a state-wide trade association, the history of concessions and entertainment, changes in public opinion toward the treatment of animals, fair-site ecology, and youth activities like 4H. This list identifies some of the obvious research areas; many more exist.
The Fairs Collection is divided into eight series:
- Western Fairs Association
- Division of Fairs and Expositions
- Joint Committee on Fairs Allocation and Classification
- Printed Materials
- Visual Media
- Audio Media
- Additional Donations
The archives of the Western Fairs Association is housed in 33 boxes with the most extensive portion being subseries 1, Office Files, 1940-1982, containing directors' files, financial records, subject folders and correspondence. Subseries 5, Mailings, 1945-1966, contains a copy of every mass mailing from the WFA central office including press releases, memos and announcements. Copies of all Assembly and Senate bills relating to fairs are found in subseries 06, which includes correspondence and position papers as well. There are four boxes for the Division of Fairs and Expositions, mainly office files and copies of the annual Master Premium List from 1938 through 1980.
Thirteen boxes contain material from the Joint Committee on Fairs Allocation and Classification including hearing transcripts from 1954-1982. There are nine boxes of printed material including serials and publications from the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, the Canadian fair associations, and reports from California executive and legislative agencies. Printed materials relating to horse racing, Cal Expo and vocational education have been grouped together in each subject.
Twenty-two boxes contain visual media material, mainly prints and slides relating to California fairs. There are three boxes each of audio media and material culture. The audio media are mainly recordings of hearings of the Joint Committee and annual meetings of WFA. Items in the material culture files include posters, bumper stickers, buttons, ribbons and other memorabilia.
An oral history interview with Louis S. Merrill was completed in the fall of 1985. The transcripts of these interviews are also housed in Special Collections at Cal Poly.
Where possible, the provenance, or original organization, of the papers has been preserved. However, in order to simplify access to the collection for researchers, some materials in specific formats and topics were reorganized and refoldered to more accurately reflect their contents.