The original Oktoberfest in Germany started on Oct. 12, 1810, to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in Bavaria, Germany.
For the first few years, it was an event used to boost agriculture in Bavaria. These first Oktoberfests didn’t include any amusement, except horse races, until a carousel and two swings were added in 1818.
In 2010, the horse races were brought back to honor the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest in Germany. Festival organizers have also set up a museum tent that allows attendees to see how the festival would have been celebrated in the past.
Oktoberfest didn’t find its way to the United States until the 20th century.
It was first celebrated in La Crosse in September 1961. It is the longest-running Oktoberfest in the Midwest.
Oktoberfest was brought to La Crosse by G. Heileman Brewing Co., the La Crosse Chamber of Commerce and many others that wanted to bring Munich to La Crosse. The La Crosse Oktoberfest celebration was described as “one of the most authentic Oktoberfest celebrations in the U.S.” by USA Today in 2010.
When it was first celebrated here in 1961, people attending Oktoberfest purchased this button for admittance to the grounds. It could be used every day of the celebration. Those buttons were only $1 to purchase, which is the equivalent of $8.33 today. This year, however, festival has decided to use a printed pass for admittance to the South Side grounds.
The original Oktoberfest celebration in La Crosse in 1961 offered boat rides, helicopter rides, archery competitions, pig-dressing contests, a pie-eating contest, a Protestant service, a Catholic Mass and many more events. Many stores and businesses in La Crosse used to have special sales on Oktoberfest weekend. You could even buy houses cheaper during 1961 because of an “Oktoberfest Special.”
In keeping with tradition of maintaining international relationships, the city of La Crosse organized a soccer match at Memorial Field between the Milwaukee Bavarians and the St. Paul Soccer Club. To celebrate the first year of this celebration, Mayor Milo Knutson and Oktoberfestmaster Carl Mertens invited Burgomeister Bayerle, the mayor of Munich, Germany, to attend. He was not able to accept the invitation.
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on September 29, 2018.