Octoberfest was the result of a brainstorming session of the Appleton Downtown Retail Association, (the predecessor of Appleton Downtown Inc.) and the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. in 1981. They were searching for a way to promote their businesses, to improve their community image and to showcase Downtown Appleton and the businesses located there.
It was decided to hold a huge party and to invite the entire community to participate.
This very pro-active and visionary group decided on several courses of action. Non-profit groups from throughout the community were invited to sponsor food booths. Music was added by working with the "experts", the radio stations, to choose the entertainment.
Although music and food have remained as the central focus of Octoberfest, almost everything else about the event has continued to evolve.
Beer has been a part of Octoberfest since the beginning. Originally, there were several beer gardens, which were enclosed with snow fence. Our volunteer bartenders were responsible for checking identifications, serving beer and keeping the area secure. In 1992, the Appleton Police Department asked us to explore the possibility of changing our beer sale operation. Our director and board, with help from a Leadership Fox Cities work group, wrote a plan to contract with non-profit groups to check ID's and sell wristbands. Amidst dire predictions of a free-for-all, we took down the fences and sold beer in open areas. A year later we initiated the "ticket for a beer" plan, which has been very successful.
During the first years, Octoberfest was a one-day, stand-alone event. In 1987, the Octoberfest Board of Directors decided to make the preceding Friday night into a retail event by sponsoring a "sock hop". This was marginally successful and in 1990, a car show was added to the Friday night festivities and it was named "License to Cruise" to celebrate the popular past-time of "Cruising The Ave."
Food, a live band, a variety of food booths and an annual automobile related theme have combined to the phenomenal success of License To Cruise, which is now attended by 50,000 plus people. License To Cruise is now a "must attend" event with attendees enjoy looking at 400 antique and classic cars, including our "feature" cars, live music in Houdini Plaza and a large variety of outdoor food booths.
In our on-going effort to make Octoberfest truly a family event, a Family Fun Area, was added. It includes rides, safety demonstrations, continuous entertainment and other activities that families enjoy.
Octoberfest operating funds are generated in three primary ways. Sponsorships from area businesses, income from beer sales,food booth and Arts & Craft vendor fees. Funds are returned to the community through grants and donations.
We have contributed to the downtown Christmas lights, supported downtown concerts, installed electrical service in Houdini Plaza. We are a proud sponsor of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center and The Building For Kids. We were a contributor to the recent Appleton Police Department canine program and, through our ongoing grant process, we support the special projects of countless area not-for-profit associations.
Octoberfest is volunteer driven. Fifteen people serve on our Executive Committee, to almost 800 volunteers who tend bar, work in our headquarters, sell beer tickets and work as block captains, to the 2,000 plus people who work in the food booths, each person feels a personal ownership of Octoberfest.
Octoberfest is "community driven". Each not-for-profit booth that sells food at Octoberfest uses their profits to support their community project. Some of them view Octoberfest as their major fundraiser for the year. We estimate that more than 2.5 million dollars have been reinvested in our community as a result of Octoberfest.
Octoberfest is truly a "Fox Cities Institution" and serves as a role model for other regional festivals.
Octoberfest needs your help. From bartenders to block captains, from marking streets to help with parking we are always in need of volunteers.
Get your friends together and visit our volunteers page to see what's available. You'll be helping Octoberfest help hundreds of non profit organizations along with the other great causes that we support.