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The Minnesota State Fair Grandstand: 140 years of magic

Finding Minnesota: The State Fair Grandstand
Finding Minnesota: The State Fair Grandstand 03:28

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. –  Jerry Hammer's first job was working at the Minnesota State Fair greenhouse as a teenager. Today, he's the fair's CEO.

"I grew up about a block away from the fairgrounds, so it was just natural," Hammer said.

He's also a walking encyclopedia of fair knowledge.

"This is the Fair. This is really Minnesota's cathedral," Hammer said.

Then that makes the Grandstand Minnesota's chapel. Originally, it was built out of wood in 1885, but like a bag of mini-donuts, it didn't last long.

"There were events here that attracted so many people, they cautioned the audience, 'Don't move too much,'" he said.

So in 1909, they built something much more stable. It's the Grandstand you see today: brick on the outside, steel and concrete on the inside. Minnesota's first flight happened here in 1910. But back then, the Grandstand's real draw was horse racing, thanks to a famous horse whose name you'll still see at the fair. 

"Dan Patch set the world record, 1 minute, 55 seconds, here," he said.

Those days also pre-dated television, so politicians were looking for a big stage and a big audience. Presidents Taft, Coolidge and Eisenhower, as well as Teddy Roosevelt. He gave his "Walk softly and carry a big stick" speech at the Grandstand.


"It was referred to as 'The Minnesota Speech,'" Hammer said.

Days after he delivered that famous speech, Roosevelt became president when William McKinley was assassinated. Political races – along with horse and auto races – eventually gave way to concerts with daytime fireworks.

Over the years, the performances have changed, the fans have changed, even the sound systems have changed. But one thing remains the same – the Grandstand still has no problem filling its seats. 

"While all the other stadiums and other facilities were coming and going, this is the one that's remained. And it's as good today as it ever was," Hammer said.

Most Grandstand shows average about 15,000 fans. Hammer told John that they hope to one day put up a "Wall of Fame" honoring all the famous musicians who have performed there.

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