This year marks the centenary of the introduction of the Ferris wheel at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The original wheel cost a whopping $300,000 to build, weighed 1,200 tons and carried 36 cars, each holding 40 persons. Paris had its Eiffel Tower but Chicago -- and America -- had this smashing new ride.
To commemorate this milestone in popular culture, the Maryland State Fair features a new Ferris wheel when it begins its 10-day run today at the Timonium fairgrounds.
Over the past 112 years, the State Fair has firmly established itself as a Maryland family tradition that successfully combines education with entertainment. Held during the last week of the summer season, it draws huge crowds and caps a series of county fairs.
The big stars of the Maryland State Fair are members of 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America, whose livestock shows and sales are perennial favorites. So are produce competitions and craft contests. May the best pumpkin and the most flawless cucumber win.
Many visitors come specifically to take advantage of daily demonstrations of such skills as chair-caning, weaving and spinning and doll making. Or to examine winning entries in pie and cake contests. All that may sound a bit corny but it is exactly this old-fashioned feeling that makes the fair so attractive to today's frantic crowds, which seldom have stopped to smell the hay (or manure).
As Maryland metropolitan regions have become increasingly urbanized, agriculture has lost much of its dominance. Still, farming is a $400 million-a-year industry in the state. Such farming-related businesses as nursery products and the poultry industry are actually expanding. All this will be featured at Timonium until Labor Day.
At $3 a ticket, the State Fair is among the better bargains at the end of summer.