Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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Beginning the fourth Thursday after Labor Day, the Tulsa State Fair (TSF) has annually attracted more than one million visitors and fifteen thousand exhibitors from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The first Tulsa "state fair" was held in 1935, but the event traces its origin to a number of street fairs held in the 1890s and early 1900s in present the downtown area. In 1913 Tulsa landed the International Dry Farming Congress, which brought agriculturalists from all over North America as well as Europe, South America, China, and the Middle East. A new sixteen-acre exposition grounds, just north of Lewis Avenue and Admiral Boulevard, was opened for the event and a huge exhibit hall, the Kaffir Corn Palace, built.

Two years later the Tulsa Free Fair Association was formed and in 1926 the fair moved to the TSF's current 240-acre location between Louisville and Yale avenues and Fifteenth and Twenty-first streets. J. E. Crosbie, an early Tulsa oilman and real estate developer, donated most of the land. In 1931 a half-million-dollar bond issue financed the construction of the fairgrounds' landmark art deco Pavilion and other improvements. In 1935 legislation elevated what had been a local free fair to "state fair" status.

Reorganized in 1949, the Tulsa State Fair merged with a spring livestock show a year later to achieve its current configuration. Over the next few years buildings were added and facilities upgraded. Annual attendance reached six hundred thousand in 1958. The 1957 fair was officially named "Oklahoma's Golden Anniversary Exposition."

In 1966 the ten-acre International Petroleum Exposition Center, at the time the world's largest building under a single roof, was completed. For several years the fair was the biggest in the state and one of the largest in the United States. At the beginning of the twenty-first century it remained among the nation's twelve largest, according to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions.

Legal entanglements and disputes over management of the event and the fairgrounds, now called Expo Square, have led to several changes in governance. Since 1983 the fair has been administered by the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority, which includes the three county commissioners and two at-large members.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Tulsa (Oklahoma) Tribune, 28 June 1957 and 29 September 1977. Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, 16 September 1962, 22 September 1970, and 22 September 1997. Know the Facts on the Operation of the Tulsa State Fair Plant and Your Annual Tulsa State Fair (Tulsa, Okla.: Tulsa Exposition and Fair Corp., 1970).

Randy Krehbiel

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