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."