State Fair of Texas History

We've come a long way since 1886

In the 19th century, American fairs and exhibitions reflected the nation's agricultural-based economy.

In America, initially, fairs were a way for industry to offer education, resources, product promotion, and entertainment.

In 1885, local civic leaders proposed the idea of producing Dallas' first fair. One year later, in 80 acres of prairie on the outskirts of town, Fair Park was born as the site of what was first called the Dallas State Fair.

By the 1880s, rival Dallas fairs in other locations had faded away and the East Dallas we have come to call Fair Park became the permanent site for a yearly event, then called the Texas State Fair and Dallas Exposition.

State Fair History Highlights


The 1890 Texas State Fair and Dallas Exposition attracted a record crowd of nearly 35,000. Visitors could enjoy a swinging ride called the Razzle Dazzle, tour a Japanese Village, and a gasp at a collection of skulls belonging to a famous doctor. That year, a "lost children's station" was introduced for worried parents.

In 1904, the fairgrounds were purchased by the City of Dallas for use as a public park.

A magnificent auditorium – which eventually would be known as the Music Hall – was completed in 1925, and touring Broadway theatrical productions were presented to Texas audiences for the first time.

The OU-Texas football game was established as an annual fair event in 1929 and, in 1930, a race track complex that had been an integral part of the Fair Park grounds was razed to make room for the 46,000-seat Fair Park Stadium  – now known as the Cotton Bowl.

In 1936, Dallas hosted the Texas Centennial Exposition. Most of Fair Park's present buildings were built for this special event. The following year, the Pan American Exposition was produced in cooperation with the Mexican government.

Due to World War II, no fairs were held from 1942-1945. Following the war, however, the State Fair of Texas entered an era of unprecedented growth.

Annual attendance reached two-million visitors in 1949.

Big Tex made his debut at the 1952 State Fair of Texas.

In 1968, the total number of fairgoers exceeded three million for the first time.

Through the years, Fair Park has been visited by such notables as educator Booker T. Washington, entertainer "Buffalo Bill" Cody, temperance advocate Carrie Nation, last chief of the Commanches Quanah Parker, rocker Elvis Presley, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

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State Fair of Texas History