From Ohio History Central
In June 1845, Ohio farmers organized the Ohio Board of Agriculture. During the following year, the Ohio General Assembly formally recognized the group as the Ohio State Board of Agriculture. This organization was the predecessor to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
The board's initial goal was to establish county fairs across Ohio. In order to form the county fairs, the Ohio State Board of Agriculture implemented an agricultural board in every Ohio county. The county boards were to determine their individual needs and lobby the legislature to assist them through legislative acts. The county fairs were to celebrate farmers and their contributions to Ohio's economy. In 1849, the Ohio State Board of Agriculture also established the Ohio State Fair, but a cholera epidemic forced the fair's cancellation. The first Ohio State Fair was held in 1850. The city of Cincinnati hosted the fair, which ran for three days.
In the early years of the state fair, most visitors and exhibitors came from the general vicinity of where the fair was being held. Transportation connecting the state together was still limited. As a result of the poor transportation infrastructure, the Board of Agriculture decided to move the state fair to a different location each year so that more people would have access to it over time. A number of cities hosted the fair, including Columbus (1851, 1855, 1864, 1865), Cleveland (1852, 1856, 1862, 1863), Cincinnati (1850, 1857), Dayton (1853, 1860, 1861, 1866, 1867), Newark (1854), Sandusky (1858), Zanesville (1859), Toledo (1868, 1869), Springfield (1870, 1871), and Mansfield (1872, 1873). Ultimately, the board decided that the state capitol should be the permanent site for the state fair, and the event moved to Columbus permanently in 1874.
The Ohio State Board of Agriculture enabled farmers to showcase their products and skills through the county fairs and eventually the Ohio State Fair. It also opened lines of communication between farmers, helping them to spread improved farming techniques across the state and to increase the farmers' productivity. During the latter nineteenth century, the Ohio State Board of Agriculture further improved farmer productivity by instituting Ohio Farmer Institutes. Ohio Farmer Institutes existed across Ohio and included speakers and classes on the most recent farming practices.
In 1920, the Ohio Department of Agriculture formed, replacing the Ohio State Board of Agriculture. The Ohio State Board of Agriculture had reported to the Ohio General Assembly. Illustrating the increasing power of Ohio's governor, the Ohio Department of Agriculture reported directly to the governor. The Ohio Department of Agriculture continued to oversee the county and state fair system, including setting the dates of all fairs, helping fund the various fairs, and also providing prize money for the fairs' harness racing events.
Beyond overseeing Ohio's fairs, the Ohio Department of Agriculture, over time, assumed other important roles. For example, the Division of Animal Industry seeks to eliminate diseases from Ohio's domestic and wild animals. This division also tests fair animals for tampering. The Division of Amusement Ride Safety checks Ohio's permanent amusement park and portable rides for safety.
Since 1845, the Ohio Board of Agriculture, then the Ohio State Board of Agriculture, and finally the Ohio Department of Agriculture have assisted Ohio's farmers in increasing production and enhancing crop and livestock quality. These various organizations have helped make Ohio one of the leading agricultural states within the United States of America.