In 1822, a group of Sydney's leading citizens formed the Agricultural Society of NSW with the aim of "furthering the quality of Australia's primary production by means of contests and competitions".
Eleven officers were elected and the Society staged its first Show at Parramatta the following year. At the time, Parramatta was the bread bowl of Australia and, the agricultural hub of the colony, which was struggling to provide for its population of 30,000, half of them convicts.
Despite its initial success the Society lapsed in 1834 due to the pressure of drought and economic depression, but re-formed in 1857 under the Cumberland Agricultural Society. It was later renamed the Agricultural Society of NSW in 1859. The Society's Shows were held at government grounds in Parramatta until 1868. In 1869 the Society was offered the use of Prince Alfred Park where a purpose built exhibition building had been built.
Shows continued at Prince Alfred Park until 1881, when high rent and empty coffers forced the Society to look for a new venue. The City Council offered 40 acres of unpromising, sandy scrub at Moore Park for an annual rent of £10. With the help of the NSW Government and public subscriptions the Society built a Showground, which became home to the Show for the next 115 years.
In 1891 Queen Victoria honoured the Society by permitting use of the word 'Royal'. The Society subsequently became the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales.
While the bubonic plague did not stop the Show when it struck Sydney in 1900, the influenza epidemic of 1919 caused chaos. Large public gatherings were banned and the Show was cancelled. Many buildings on the Showground were repurposed as temporary hospitals and the Royal Hall of Industries served as a morgue. During World War II the Sydney Royal Easter Show was cancelled for five consecutive years when the Showground was requisitioned for military use, and some 700,000 troops passed through its grounds.
By the late 1980s the Sydney Royal Easter Show had outgrown its Moore Park facilities. In 1994 the NSW Government approved its relocation to Sydney Olympic Park at Homebush. The first Show at the new grounds was held in 1998.
Today the Show is Australia's biggest annual event, injecting more than $600m into the NSW economy and attracting close to a million visitors with its entertainment, exhibitions, competitions and vivid depictions of rural life.