These vivid photos from inside the 1972 Texas State Fair exhibition hall show people sampling a wide variety of the products of their state, from eggs and beef to pecans and spring water.
The Dallas State Fair & Exposition, to which the present State Fair of Texas traces its origin, was chartered as a private corporation on Jan. 30, 1886, by a group of Dallas businessmen.
The goal was to create an annual occasion for the farmers, ranchers, and business owners of the state to gather and show off their products, and for visitors to enjoy a wide selection of entertainment.
The finest racing stock, cattle sales, concerts, balloon ascents, displays of farm machinery, contests for the ladies, and appearances by such notables as John Philip Sousa, William Jennings Bryan, Carrie Nation, and Booker T. Washington brought thousands of Texans to the Fair each year.
But the popular success of the exposition was shadowed by repeated fires, mishaps, and mounting debt. A grandstand collapsed during a fireworks show in 1900, and the main exhibit building burned to the ground two years later.
When the Texas Legislature banned gambling on horse races in 1903, thereby eliminating the Fair’s main source of income, the association faced a financial crisis.
To protect this valuable community asset, the Texas State Fair spurned offers from developers and sold its property to the City of Dallas in 1904 under an agreement that set aside a period each fall to hold the annual exposition.
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.
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. In 1953, Big Tex’s jaw was hinged, so that he appears to “speak” the announcements that promote fair events.
Since 1960, each exposition has been keyed to a theme. In 1968, the total number of fairgoers exceeded 3 million for the first time.
(Photo credit: Texas State Archives / State Fair of Texas Official website / bigtex.com).