Appleton's Octoberfest - A Mile of Fun Since 1981

Appleton’s Octoberfest was the result of a brainstorming session between the Appleton Downtown Retail Association (the predecessor of Appleton Downtown Inc.) and the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. in 1981. The two entities were searching for a way to promote their work, strengthen community image, and 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.

And although music and food have remained as the central focus of Appleton’s Octoberfest, almost everything else about the event has continued to evolve.

Beer has been a part of Appleton’s Octoberfest since the beginning. Originally, there were several beer gardens, which were enclosed by snow fences. 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. With help from a Leadership Fox Cities work group, our event director and planning committee wrote a plan to contract with non-profit groups to check IDs 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 since been very successful.

During the first years, Appleton’s Octoberfest was a one-day, stand-alone event. In 1987, the event Committee 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. It was named “License to Cruise” to celebrate the popular past-time of “Cruising The Ave.”

A live band, food booths, and an annual automobile-related theme have led to the phenomenal success of License To Cruise, which is now attended by 100,000 plus people annually. License To Cruise is now a “must-attend” event with 400 antique and classic cars, including our “feature” cars, live music in Houdini Plaza, and a large variety of outdoor food booths.

In our ongoing effort to make Appleton’s Octoberfest truly a family event, a Family Fun Area was added. It includes rides, safety demonstrations, continuous entertainment, and other activities that families enjoy.

Appleton’s Octoberfest operating funds are generated in three primary ways: sponsorships from area businesses, income from beer sales, and fees from food booths and arts & crafts vendors. Funds are returned to the community through grants and donations.

Appleton’s Octoberfest has contributed to the installation and maintenance of downtown Christmas lights, supported downtown concerts, and 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 Appleton Police Department canine program and, through our ongoing grant process, we support the special projects of countless area not-for-profit associations.

Appleton’s Octoberfest is volunteer-driven. Fifteen people serve on our planning committee; almost 800 volunteers tend bar, work in our headquarters, sell beer tickets, and work as block captains; and more than 2,000 people work in the food booths. 

Appleton’s Octoberfest is community-driven. Each not-for-profit booth that sells food at the event uses its profits to support a community project. Some of them view Appleton’s Octoberfest as their major fundraiser for the year. We estimate that more than $2.5 million has been reinvested in our community as a result of Appleton’s Octoberfest.

Appleton’s Octoberfest is truly a “Fox Cities Institution” and serves as a role model for other regional festivals.