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100 Years on the Avenue: The Story of the Big E


Panoramic view of the Colliseum Building at the Big E.

Big E History

Since its inception the Eastern States Exposition has been a showcase for agriculture and industry, as well as a reflection of New England’s time honored culture.

The annual September event has evolved over the past 100 years from an agriculture and industrial Exposition into what many of us know today as “The Big E” but it is so much more than that.

It began as the vision of local business man Joshua L. Brooks who had the foresight to recognize that at the turn of the century the status of the New England farmer was changing resulting in a wide spread decline in regional agriculture.  Brooks convened a group of community leaders and expressed to them his belief that the East was overly absorbed in industrial development and had neglected its agricultural roots.  The group traveled to Chicago and convinced the executive body of the National Dairy Show to hold their annual extravaganza in West Springfield instead of its traditional home, the Midwest.  In 1916, this National Dairy Show was the first event held on the Exposition Grounds. This laid the groundwork for the Eastern States Expsition and strengthened the belief that regional farmers with common problems should have a common program, void of state boundaries, and thus the idea of an Exposition was born.

The past 100 years have not been without its challenges: the Great Depression, two world wars and the wrath of Mother Nature - including floods in ’27 and ’36 and a hurricane in ’38 - have all made their mark over the course of the Exposition’s history.

It has also had its share of dignitaries and luminaries including President Dwight Eisenhower, as well as entertainment personalities like Guy Lombardo, Roy Rogers and Liberace. The Big E has even thrown its hat into the political arena: in 1964 the Massachusetts Democratic Convention was held on the Exposition grounds.

Through it all, the Fair has always maintained its roots in agriculture, and it remains a site for celebration and showcase, hosting over 100 events throughout the year, each highlighting the creative, industrial and agricultural resources of the Northeast while showcasing the best of the region’s people.