The 1920 Missouri State Fair served to commemorate a special event — the State of Missouri’s Centennial. The directors of the fair spared no expense, even to the extent of dramatically overspending their budget. They planned a massive pageant detailing Missouri’s history, special concerts and other musical performances, and historic exhibits from all the state’s counties.
Visitors were encouraged to drive to the fair, a way of recognizing several years of road and highway improvements. They were assured that Sedalia had plenty of rooms available for visitors and garages for their automobiles. The fair also offered another alternative — camping.
The fair had established what it called White City, a free campground area. Visitors were encouraged to bring their own tents. If they wished, they could bring their own cots, or they could rent cots from the State Fair.
White city also offered three cook tents with stoves where campers could prepare meals. The stoves used in the tents were made by the Sedalia Oil-Gas Stove and Foundry Co., which had recently located in Sedalia.
The stoves used a patented design of W.T. and J.H. Van Brunt. One of the advantages of the stoves was their ability to burn gas distilled from kerosene or any paraphine base. The distillation process was also patented by the Van Brunts. The process eliminated the carbon that built up on the burners and smoked, becoming a nuisance to both stove manufacturers and homemakers.
The gas distilled by the Van Brunt’s process was inexpensive; a stove burner could burn 20 to 24 hours on the gas distilled from a gallon of kerosene, which sold then for about 20 cents. Operating the oven cost about one cent per hour and produced “perfect baking.”
The stoves were a big success at the fair. After the fair closed, M.V. Carroll, superintendent of the White City Campgrounds, wrote to the Sedalia Oil-Gas Stove and Foundry Co. He praised the stoves, noting they were in use from as early as 5 a.m. until late at night. Not only were they an attraction, as any new technology would be, they also proved to be very useful and popular with the campers.
Carrol noted the stoves allowed hundreds of campers to bake, boil, fry, and stew many tasty dishes. When the cool rains came, as often happened during the fair, the stoves provided warmth as campers gathered in the cook tents to escape the cold.
Carroll closed his letter by noting that no other facility on the fairgrounds was “more useful or more highly appreciated.”
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.