History of the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival

History of the Apple Blossom Festival.  Check out the display of Festival history at the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center (127 S. Mission St.)

The Washington State Apple Blossom Festival Association is a Washington non-profit corporation. Formerly, it was a semi-autonomous division of the Wenatchee Chamber of Commerce, and is now an independent organization. It is the oldest major festival in the state of Washington.

By 1905 Wenatchee had established itself as a major Apple growing area. Unfortunately, local agents weren’t giving farmers a lot of money for their crops and farmers couldn’t make enough money to keep going. By 1907 Ernst Wagner thought there must be a better way. He had read about exports of fruit to the Pacific.
With 3000 cases left over that he refused to sell for 20cents a case. He shipped his apples to Seattle where he contacted a shipping agent who allowed him to ship the apples to Australia and be paid out of the proceeds.
Ernst took his whole family on the ship with shipment of apples. When he got to Australia he heard that the Australians had had a bad run with Californian apples being very badly packaged and damaged on arrival. Ernst very cleverly decided to market his apples as Washington state or Wenatchee apples rather than American to get away from the stigma of the Californian apples. His apples met with great success in Australia and sold for $10,000. While he was on holiday he visited other dealers in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. He returned with signed contracts for 27,000 cases and rumor has it he is shipped 35,000 in the following year.
By 1912 Ernst had done so well he decided to give his agents overseas a model T Ford car. He was returning home from delivering one of the cars to New Zealand when he met Sue Callahan on board ship.

Sue moved to Wenatchee about 1914. Sue was born in New Zealand and emigrated to the USA in 1902. She and her four sisters have been brought up running country hotels. By the time she reached her early teens she was well versed at running a business.
We believe that starting the Apple Blossom Festival was not a mirror of a festival that she had seen in New Zealand, but a way of making women visible and marking their largely unrecognized contribution to the growth of America. 1920 was the perfect year to start the Festival.  The year that American women got to vote. Susan Wagner was a pioneer / founder of the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival and continued to be involved with the Festival for 25 years.   No matter how many times she returned to New Zealand she always called Wenatchee home. And home is where your heart was. Ernst died in 1948 and Sue in 1953. Both leaving a large legacy for the people of the Town they lived, Wenatchee, home of the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival. 

  • Carnival: The Festival is very proud to have America's seventh largest carnival, Funtastic Shows, participate in its annual event. There are approximately 25 rides and games for all age groups, plus lots of food. The Funtastic Carnival is located at Riverfront Park at the foot of Fifth Street on the Columbia River.

  • Golf Tournament: 144 golfers participate in one of the best tournaments in the Northwest at the beautiful Highlander Golf Course.

  • Food Fair: Held in Memorial Park, at the corner of Orondo and Chelan, the Food Fair runs the entire 11 days of the Festival. A delicious part of the Apple Blossom Festival is the Food Fair; over 20 booths featuring items such as: tasty funnel cakes, hearty barbecue, various ethnic cuisine, crepes, ice cream, espresso, caramel apples, elephant ears, pizza, Caesar salads, sandwiches and much, much more. From lunch through dinner, many tasty treats satisfy the appetite and make meal plans during the Festival a snap!

  • Entertainment: Held at the stage in Memorial Park, Entertainment runs the entire length of the festival. Lots of wonderful entertainment performs during the lunch and dinner hours on weekdays and all day on both weekends. The Entertainment, along with the Food Fair makes Memorial Park the place to be during the Festival.

  • Youth Parade: The Festival's Youth Parade is one of the only parades in the state to feature so many of Washington's youngster. Over 4,500 children ages 14 & under (and some who are just young at heart) truly have a wonderful time at this celebration! Imagination is the key ingredient to the many fanciful floats, costumes, preschool groups, and other entries which delight over 50,000 spectators along the route, which runs from Triangle Park at the top of Orondo down to Mission and ends at Fifth Street.

  • Youth Day: The Pepsi-Cola Youth Day has quadrupled in size since the first year it was held in 1986. This free event includes face painting, rubber stamping, and displays by many of our local youth-oriented programs. Organizations will provide a variety of hand-on activities for youth of all ages. Youth Day is held the Sunday after the Youth Parade at Memorial Park from 11am-4pm.

  • Art 4 Kidz: This valley wide contest is open to kids Pre-K through 12th grade with several different categories. All art entries will be displayed and winners will be announced on Youth Day in Memorial Park.

  • Arts & Crafts Fair: This 3-day event attracts over 140 vendors and 100,000 spectators. All items are handcrafted and categories include clothing, music, fine arts, made for children, wood, pottery, candles/soap, metal, country, jewelry, & leather. The Arts & Crafts Fair takes place in Memorial Park the first weekend of May.

  • Grand Parade: The cannon sounds promptly at 11:00 am to announce the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival Grand Parade, which has been going strong since the Festival's beginning in 1919. As always, leading off the parade is the traditional Apple Blossom Fun Run, in addition to the daredevil maneuvers of the Seattle Police Motorcycle Drill team. Bands from throughout the Northwest join with many colorful floats and proud-stepping equestrian units to make this one of Washington's grandest parades, to a crowd of over 100,000 spectators.

The Washington State Apple Blossom Festival exhibits the pride that its many volunteers take in the Wenatchee area’s spectacular natural beauty, its prosperous economy, and family values.

Economic Impact of the Festival

The Washington State Apple Blossom Festival benefits our community in a variety of ways:

  • Approximately 5,500 people participate in the Grand Parade. Most will spend money on hotel rooms, food, gasoline, souvenirs, and supplies while they are here. Another 3,500-4,000 participate in the Youth Parade.

  • VIP's from other festivals throughout the Northwest attend the Apple Blossom Festival and spend money on lodging, meals, entertainment, etc...

  • The two parades and the many other activities attract over 100,000 visitors who spend money on products ranging from cotton candy and soda, to food, lodging, and gas.

  • The Arts & Crafts Fair attracts over 140 exhibitors who average a two-day stay, and spend money on food, lodging, and supplies.

  • The 20 Concessionaires operating in Memorial park purchase fresh produce, groceries, sodas, and restaurant supplies during their stay.

  • During the 11-day run of the Carnival, Funtastic Shows hires many local people for set-up, operations, and tear-down. They, too, purchase local produce and groceries, and spend money on wages, permits, electricity, etc...

  • Many non-profit organizations put on events in the Wenatchee Area for the benefit of the community. The funds these groups raise are re-invested in our community for the betterment of our citizens.

The Apple Blossom Festival benefits our area in ways both tangible and intangible.

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