Question: When did Hog Days begin exactly?

Answer: So what do you mean by EXACTLY?

Most things in life don't enter the scene fully-formed.  There's an evolution over time.  And that's the case with Hog Days.  We didn't wake up one morning back in 1954 and decide "hey, let's do a four day party over Labor Day weekend and invite 50 thousand of our closest friends!"  Rather, the original "seed" that became Hog Days actually goes back to a time when hog farming  seemed the way to make a tolerable living around these parts.  After years of sustained growth in that area, the United States Department of Agriculture noticed one day that Henry County in Illinois was leading the entire nation in hog production.  So on Saturday, September 20, 1947, after the USDA had declared officially that Henry County was the "top hog" so to speak in America when it came to pork production, Kewanee, being the largest community in the County, took upon itself to mark the occasion by holding the very first ever "Hog Day." The special day included a barrow show...a public showing of the best hogs in this area.  Pens were set up in the 200 block of North Tremont Street in the heart of Kewanee's business district with over 150 swine shown by area farmers. Temporary street signs were installed renaming the downtown streets "Duroc" "Hampshire" and "Yorkshire" among others. A carnival was brought in and set up as well. Prize drawings were held throughout the day by local merchants.  There was even a hog calling contest to mark the occasion!

Apparently folks had a good time because this one day event was repeated in 1948 and turned into a four day event by 1949, September 22 - 25.  Newspaper accounts from that time mention not only a barrow show but a dance as well where the exhibitor of the grand champion barrow was crowned "King Hog." There was a torchlight parade from the downtown business district to Northeast Park where the "Kewanee Cavalcade" was held...a dramatic spectacle that spanned three evenings on a huge stage and featured 500 performers and support staff to enact! Kewanee merchants also got in on the action that year by printing and distributing wooden nickel certificates.  They looked more like a wooden dollar (printed on balsa wood and measuring 4" by 2 1/2"). (Please click here to see 1949 wooden nickel certificates!) These wooden certificates could be redeemed while Hog Days was open for merchandise at local stores or turned into the People's National Bank on the final day of that year's event for face value in cash.  It was also in 1949, March 23rd to be exact, that the Illinois House of Representatives unanimously passed House Resolution 40 declaring Henry County and Kewanee the Hog Capital Of The World, a resolution introduced by Frank P. Johnson R-Kewanee.  (Please click here for the story on what happened that day in Springfield! Please click here to read House Resolution 40.)

We had a Hog Days celebration in 1950 that was similar to the prior year event in 1949.  No records have been found of Hog Days being observed in 1951 or 1952.  However, in 1952, the Kewanee High School Future Farmers of America Chapter and its advisor, Jim Golby, revived the barrow show event setting up pens on the track at the KHS stadium.

A similar barrow show was held in 1954, again coordinated by Golby and the FFA, not long after Kewanee completed celebrating its Centennial.  The centennial, held Thursday, July 15 thru Sunday, July 18 of that year, featured a huge parade on Sunday and, get ready for this, the world's largest outdoor FREE barbecue, designed to feed over 50 thousand people.  (Please click here for more on the one and only free barbecue ever held!)  Pits were actually dug into a city parking lot at Chestnut and First Streets, filled with hickory wood and lit!  Eudell Watts and Joe Rule were in charge of the cooking. In 1955, under sponsorship of the Kewanee Chamber of Commerce and the Henry County Farm Bureau, the not for profit organization Hog Capital Barbecue, Inc. was formed with Dallas Brown the first Chairman.  (Please click here for a complete listing of all Hog Festival Chairpersons from 1955 through present). This is where the clock starts ticking for an organization, we were officially "born" in 1955. A simple event was held in November, 1955 which also featured a barbecue.  Pork chops were purchased from the local Piggly Wiggly store!  Most local folk insist that the 1954 Centennial was the first "real" Hog Days.  Wishing to keep everyone happy and correct on the issue, we start the annual count with 1954 as the first celebration (making 2017 the 64th annual Hog Days) even though the organization managing the present day event didn't come into existence until a year later and some of the key moments and early "prototypes" resulting in what we now know as Hog Days took place in the 1940s and early 1950s!  See what we mean by the trickiness of words like "begin" and "exactly!"

In 1956, articles of incorporation were finalized with Darl Fike and Ivan Frey named as co-chairmen.  The final charter was issued on September 17, 1956 by the State of Illinois.  (Please click here for a look at the original charter).

Finally, after years of jumping around on the calendar between July and November, it was decided in 1959 to ALWAYS hold the celebration on Labor Day weekend each year and so it has been ever since.  Various events evolved afterward, and it became necessary to add a fourth day...Friday!  And, as time has gone along, other activities have been added to the days leading up to Labor Day weekend as well. Oh, and by the way, that very first event ever held, the barrow show, is still on the schedule, being held at the Black Hawk East College Agriculture Center each year on the Wednesday before Hog Days begin.

And there you have it...Hog Days history 101!

Question: So when did Hog Days begin exactly?

Answer: Let's just say a long, long time ago!

Some of the historical information above taken from the files of the Kewanee Star Courier.

More History: A Pig's Tale!

Still More: Meet the Watts Family & a Special Photo Gallery!

How About Playing a Little Tagline Trivia!







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