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State Fair of Texas History

The reorganized State Fair of Texas prospered immediately, establishing new records for receipts and attendance as 300,000 people streamed through the gates in 1905. President William Howard Taft visited the Fair in 1909, and Woodrow Wilson delivered a speech in 1911. Automobile races and stunt flying exhibitions became the top attractions. Attendance topped the 1 million mark in 1916. World War I caused the 1918 State Fair to be canceled, and Fair Park was converted into a temporary army encampment.

The 1920s brought significant development and increased activity to the fairgrounds. A magnificent auditorium – which eventually would be known as the Music Hall – was completed in 1925, and outstanding New York shows were presented to Texas audiences for the first time. The Texas-OU football game was established as an annual fairtime event in 1929. And in 1930, the race track complex was razed to permit construction of 46,000-seat Fair Park Stadium – later renamed the Cotton Bowl.

In 1934, largely through the efforts of civic leader R.L. Thornton, Fair Park was selected as the central exposition site for the proposed Texas Centennial celebration. No state fair was scheduled in 1935, and construction began on a $25 million project that transformed the existing fairgrounds into a masterpiece of art and imagination. The 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition attracted more than 6 million people during its six-month run. A similar but smaller-scaled event, the Pan American Exposition, was presented in 1937.
No fairs were held from 1942-1945. Following World War II, under the leadership of R.L. Thornton, the State Fair of Texas entered an era of unprecedented growth. Attendance reached the 2 million visitor level in 1949.

Highlights of the 1950s included the development of an international livestock show, installation of a monorail system, a Cotton Bowl concert by Elvis Presley, a visit from Vice President Richard Nixon and the first appearance of Big Tex, a 52-foot cowboy figure erected in the center of the grounds.
Since 1960, each exposition has been keyed to a theme. In 1968, the total number of fairgoers exceeded 3 million for the first time. Major renovation of the Cotton Bowl and Music Hall was accomplished during the 12 years that Robert B. Cullum served as State Fair president.