State Fair Chips

August 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

Entrance, Illinois State Fair Grounds Springfield

Each August a unique phenomenon called Fair Week hits Springfield.  Actually 10 days, the “week” hosts visitors from all over the state who enjoy exhibits, competitions, entertainment, and food.  We’re in the midst of the 2013 celebration, and those of us who call Springfield home are grumbling about traffic jams, profiting from out-of-town visitors, and enjoying the tradition.

 Although the First World War was raging in Europe in 1918, the Illinois State Fair was the festive celebration that we still enjoy today. Running from August 9 to August 26, the 1918 event was called the Illinois Centennial State Fair commemorating the centennial of Illinois statehood.  Some highlights of those two weeks include the dedication of the new Conservation Building, a speech by Teddy Roosevelt, and the sale of Liberty Chips by young Springfield girls.

A reporter explains in the August 27, 1918, Illinois State Journal:

“Liberty Chips” are potato chips and were sold in attractive blue and white bags, carrying out the Centennial color scheme, for ten cents, each bag being filled with the delicious tasty chips which took the place of candy and other sweetmeats, thereby saving sugar and at the same time aiding in converting the people to more extensive use of potatoes.

Mrs. Susan Lawrence Gehrmann was chairman of the “Liberty Chips” committee and handled the campaign in this city with the assistance of about thirty-five women and a large number of young girls who made the sales, carrying the baskets of bags of chips into theatre lobbies, on street corners, and throughout the Fair grounds.

Conceived and promoted by the Woman’s Committee of the Illinois State Council of Defense to raise money for the war effort, Springfield was the second Illinois city to conduct such a campaign (after Chicago, of course).  Although I could not find where the potato chips were made, I discovered that the young girls filled over a thousand bags in the library of the Lawrence House and left a big mess for the maid to clean up. The effort was worth it because the project earned $1,019. Perhaps the 1918 Springfield citizens did not yet complain about traffic jams, but they seemed to enjoy the tradition, and, under Susan’s leadership, profited from the visitors just as we do today.

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