CityDig: This 1941 Map Shows Off the California State Fair’s Impressive Bounty

L.A. County offers up everything from oranges to airplanes to oil
California State Fair, State Agricultural Society, Cartographer Lenoir, 1941

Long before Sham-Wows, caviar-topped Twinkies, heavy-metal cover bands and exposition halls filled with cooking utensil hucksters, the State Fair was a destination that drew throngs of visitors. Hot summer days heralded fair season out west in the momentous year of 1941, when the big-time California State Fair staked down its tents over 220 sprawling Sacramento acres. This flashy map exemplifies the golden age of pictorials, with illustrations clearly influenced by Ruth Taylor White, who set the pace in the 1930s and ’40s. As shown on this flashy map, each county of the golden state had an abundance of produce to offer. Little did the farmers know how significant a role they would soon play when United States plunged into World War II just three months after the fair’s end. The dark clouds of war were already gathering over the west coast, but the fair offered simple fun amidst the bounty of the most productive agricultural state in the union—boasting taller corn than even Iowa!

All in all, some 750,000 visitors wandered through the fairgrounds and celebrated special events like “Footprinters Day,” “a salute to the Knights of Pythias,” “Philippine Day,” and “Los Angeles County Day.” Fairgoers could view a $2 million livestock parade, farm machinery, fledgling wine offerings, a hall of flowers, pulchritudinous poultry, dairy cows, honey production, the domestic arts and sciences (dramatically portrayed!) and a fun zone where your life might rest on the rusty lynch pin of a dicey tilt-o-whirl overseen by a carnie with a half pint jutting out of his overalls. California was trumpeted as a “mirror of progress” in education, arts, and entertainment. There were 51 special events and exhibits by 58 counties along with 10,000 school and vocational offerings. For ten days and ten nights visitors could wager on harness racing, take in the horse shows, compete in baking contests, watch the chorus girls, and dance to radio’s foremost bands like professor Kay Kyser and the Ozzie Nelson orchestra with vocalist Harriet Hilliard.

1941 was a summer to remember. It brought Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, “Citizen Kane,” and Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” Rationing had yet to start and families had money to spend, and the state fair was where they spent it. The depression was finally lifting, after all, and California was moving toward fair employment practices—though the L.A. Times excoriated “greedy labor leaders” in every editorial possible. The map portrays our county as a strange amalgamation of citrus fruits, walnuts, vegetables, gold, natural gas, oil, airplane production and of course, moviemaking. At the time, Los Angeles was becoming one of the top industrial cities in America and was bursting at the seams with folks who had flocked out west for the thousands of jobs in factories all over the basin.

Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.