A Brief History of the
California State Science Fair

On April 19-20, 1952, the first science fair west of the Mississippi River was held in Los Angeles. Students from the southern edge of the State up to the counties of San Bernardino, Kern, and San Luis Obispo participated. That fair has since grown to encompass the entire State and is now the official Science Fair of the State of California.

It all began in the Fall of 1951 when a group from the California Science Teachers' Association were inspired by descriptions of student accomplishments through projects entered into the then young National Science Fair (now the International Science and Engineering Fair [ISEF]) published in Science Newsletter (now Science News).

The Fair was incorporated as the Southern California Science Fair by representatives of the California Science Teachers' Association, Los Angeles County Museum (now the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History), and the California Institute of Technology. Miss Gretchen Sibley, then Treasurer of the Science Teachers' Association, was selected Chairman of the Steering Committee, and after the Fair was incorporated, became the Executive Director, in which capacity she served for the first ten years of the Fair's existence.

The first Fair was organized and well supported by participants, judges, sponsors, and the general public. This first Fair included 237 student participants and was held on the second floor of the Natural History Museum. Among the judges were three Nobel Prize winners: Carl Anderson (Cal Tech, Physics Nobel 1936), Edwin McMillan, and Glenn Seaborg (both of UC Berkeley, having both just won the Physics Nobel in 1951). The Los Angeles Times sponsored the Fair, and the media highlighted it, most notably on television where Ralph Storey brought his "Success Story" to KTTV viewers at the Preview Reception on the evening of Friday the 18th. Over the course of that first Fair, more than 20,300 visitors viewed the project displays.

The top winners were selected to attend the National Science Fair where they showed great distinction. Henry Imus won a First Place award for his project on time lapse photography, and Gretchen Koosman won Third Place for her project studying molds.

The Fair continued to grow and attract more sophisticated projects over the years. In 1955 long-term sponsorship was taken by the National Association of Manufacturers, which contributed valuable time, people, and financial support. In 1959 the Fair outgrew the venue in the Natural History Museum and was moved to the neighboring California Museum of Science and Industry, now the California Science Center, where it remains to this day.

Through the 1960s and 1970s the Fair grew to stimulate and support science projects throughout the entire State of California. Though it had begun in the southern part of the State to recognize student effort where it could easily reach, the Fair had grown throughout the State and was acknowledged by the late 1970s as the de facto State Science Fair.

The de facto status was changed in 1990 when by action of the State Assembly and Senate in Assembly Concurrent Resolution 141, the Fair was declared the Official Science Fair of the State of California.

Today the State Science Fair continues to reach out to every region in the State. Although participants now find it more challenging to qualify for the State Science Fair than in 1952 (with the larger number of regional and county fairs affiliated with the State Science Fair), nearly 1000 students compete at the State level each year. Though the scale of the event is now larger, the goals of the current State Science Fair are much the same as they were in 1952 -- to encourage more students to learn about science by doing their own science fair projects, and to recognize them and their mentors for their efforts.

California State Science Fair / Brief History / CalifSF@usc.edu