The traveling carnival in America has been the premier form of outdoor amusement since the late-19th century. The substance and layout of the carnival has little changed since its earliest incarnation at The Chicago World's Fair of 1893. More properly known as The Columbian Exposition, this fair at the end of the 19th Century featured on its "Midway Plaisance" many iconic shows, rides, food, and midway games that are still in evidence today.
After the Chicago World's Fair, a few traveling carnival companies began touring the United States, so that by 1902 there were 17 traveling carnivals in the United States. By 1905 there were close to 50, and by 1937 there were over 300 carnivals playing civic celebrations, state and county fairs across the United States.
Until just after World War II, carnivals consisted mostly of shows-- sideshows, freak shows, animal shows, girl shows, minstrel shows, thrill shows, illusion shows, crime shows, geek shows, athletic shows, religious shows, drug shows, etc. etc. If it had the word "show" in it, then you can be assured it travelled at least for a season or two with a carnival.
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