The Northwestern Michigan Fair officially began in 1908 with the distribution of the first annual premium book, featuring a photo of the Northern Michigan Asylum Herd of Holstein Cattle on the front cover. The dates of the first annual fair were September 29, thru October 2, 1908 with admission set at twenty-five cents a day.
Though there are indications of a fair in this region dating back as early as 1873, it was not until October 15, 1907 that the Articles of Association were duly signed for the official creation of the Grand Traverse Region Fair Association: officially known today as the Northwestern Michigan Fair Association.
In 1882, Frank and Nellie Desmond purchased the previous fairgrounds (commonly known today as the Civic Center) and owned it for eighteen years. In the year 1900, the Traverse City Driving Park Association purchased the land for four thousand dollars and owned it for five years until its sale to Howard and Isabelle Whiting in 1905, again for four thousand dollars. Then in the year 1912, the Whiting family sold the grounds to Grand Traverse County for ten thousand dollars, which created an official home location for the fair. Previous to this location, the fair was held under tents on the Circus Grounds commonly known today as Thirlby Field.
With the fair officially originating in 1908, it operated as the Grand Traverse Region Fair Association for 16 years until the year 1924. It was in this year that amendments to the articles of association were made changing the official name of the fair to the Northwestern Michigan Fair Association.
In the spring of 1968, studies were conducted for a long-range plan of the fairgrounds property, which would not include the annual fair each year. The approval of the long-range plan took place in March of 1969 with a unanimous vote. Following this vote, the Fair Association purchased the current location from Consumers Power in 1971 for fifteen thousand, six hundred dollars. The year 1974 marked the final fair to be held at its original location before moving to its current location on Blair Townhall Road for the 1975 fair .
The fair has annually operated at its current location for thirty-three years in celebrating the agricultural heritage of the region. Though Harness Racing was a major feature for the fair since its creation in 1908, the year 2006 once again presented many changes to the fair. A half million-dollar capital improvement project included the deletion and removal of the Harness Racing Track, relocation of the Grandstands, and the creation of a State licensed campground.
With the fair having a history as rich as it is old, the sole purpose of the Northwestern Michigan Fair has not changed from what it was in 1908. The promotion of Michigan agriculture, horticulture, education, mechanical arts, fine arts, fruit and grain products, stock raising and dairy products, domestic science and kindred interests throughout the Grand Traverse Region, to be accomplished in part by hosting the annual Fair celebrating area agriculture and youth programs still remains as the sole purpose of the fair today.