Through the years, the exhibits evolved as the curriculum did, adding architectural designs and landscaped model houses, rodeo competitions, home economics fashion shows and more to highlight the results of student work accomplished during the academic year.
In keeping with the traditional theme of a "country fair," Poly Royal has also offered many crowd-pleasing activities that attracted locals and students alike. Cow milking contests, nail-driving competitions, and the milk can roll were open to the public, while the famous tractor pull, pole-climbing competition, and rodeo were limited to student entrants. Student organizations, peddling a wide array of food, t-shirts and other commemoratives to the crowds, used their Poly Royal profits to bankroll their activities.
In 1990, Poly Royal became of a victim of its own success when an unruly crowd of over 1,000 gathered near campus on Friday night, April 27. They threw rocks and beer bottles, overturned cars, and vandalized stores and residences along California Boulevard until they were subdued by police. Arrests were made and a reexamination of the event began. Authorities cited out-of-town revelers, alcohol abuse, and the crowds of more than 100,000 swelling the campus and town for the celebration as factors contributing to the mêlée.
After much soul-searching and discussions with police and community groups, President Warren Baker called for a "reassessment of Poly Royal." Further celebrations were put suspended until 1994, when campus and community leaders gave their approval to Open House, a much smaller version of the traditional event that returned the focus to student programs and accomplishments. With the success of six Open House celebrations, President Baker has reinstated Poly Royal in 2001 as part of the university's centennial celebrations.
As Cal Poly looks to the future, Poly Royal is once again celebrated as the incarnation of both the university's history and its "learn-by-doing" educational philosophy.
Poly Royal Buttons
Poly Royal buttons were first introduced in 1958 by the Cal Poly Collegiate Future Farmers of America. Dale Andrews, the CFFA advisor, who would go on to become vice president and acting president at Cal Poly, got the idea from the University of Minnesota while studying for his doctorate degree. He observed that the clubs there raised funds by selling buttons. He initiated the idea at Cal Poly, and students found a new way to raise money, support and promote Poly Royal, and work on projects.
To see more buttons, visit the University Archives Collections page for Poly Royal buttons.