Texas Living

5 Things You Never Knew About the State Fair of Texas

By Peter Simek 9.2.19

For 133 years, the end of September has meant one thing for Texans: time to kick off the State Fair of Texas. From corn dogs to pig races, auto shows to games on the midway, some of Texas’ most unique, colorful, and beloved traditions take place in Dallas’ Fair Park every fall.

You may think you know everything there is to know about the fair, but here are real-life tall tales about the State Fair of Texas that every Texan needs to hear. You can use this knowledge to wow your fellow fairgoers with all your State Fair trivia or argue over where the corn dogs you are eating were invented.

There Were Originally Two State Fairs in Dallas

Dallas’ civic leaders hatched the idea for a state fair in Big D in 1886, but organizers were split over where it should be located. During the first year, the Texas State Fair & Exposition was held on ground north of the city, while the Dallas State Fair took place on the tract of land where Fair Park is today. A year later, facing financial losses, the two fairs resolved their differences and merged. Since then, the grounds of Fair Park have hosted every single edition of the fair but for five years. In 1918, the fair was canceled because an army unit used Fair Park as a training ground before heading out to World War I. From 1942–1945, the fair was canceled because of World War II.

Photo by Kevin Brown. Courtesy of State Fair of Texas.

The State Fair May Not Have Invented the Corn Dog After All

It’s a point of fierce pride: the corny dog was introduced at the State Fair by Carl and Neil Fletcher in 1942. But there is some evidence that the idea of dipping a sausage in cornmeal batter dates back to German Texan immigrants. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped Fletcher’s dog from becoming the most iconic corn dog in the business. Even Julia Child had to come to Texas for a taste.

Photo by Kevin Brown. Courtesy of State Fair of Texas.

The Original Big Tex Was Purchased from a Department Store

When Big Tex, the jolly “howdy”-hollering cowboy, went up in flames in 2012, it broke the deep heart of Texas. Since then, Big Tex has been revived and animated, and he is bigger and better than ever. But the Tex we lost was a unique find. The enormous papier-mache cowboy got his start as an oversize Santa Claus sitting atop a department store in Kerens. Fair organizers slapped some blue jeans on him, gave him a shave, and the rest is history.

Photo by Kevin Brown. Courtesy of State Fair of Texas.

Hold Them Horses

At the turn of the century, the State Fair faced a crisis. In 1903, the Texas Legislature banned betting on horses, which had been the principle source of income for the fair since the very beginning. Fearing the collapse of a treasured community asset — but lacking the funds required to host it each year — fair organizers came up with a solution: Sell the fairgrounds to the city of Dallas with an agreement that ensured the city would hold the annual exposition each fall.

Photo by Kevin Brown. Courtesy of State Fair of Texas.

Elvis is in the Building

Sure, two sitting U.S. presidents have visited the State Fair of Texas (William Howard Taft in 1909 and Woodrow Wilson in 1911), and the fair was the subject of a Rodgers and Hammerstein Hollywood musical starring Ann-Margret. But the State Fair has also welcomed royalty. That’s right — in 1956, a fresh-faced Elvis Presley played to raucous crowds at the Cotton Bowl only a few weeks after he exploded American popular culture with his first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

We’ve got lots more Texas history and trivia for you. Learn more about chili, Frito pie, the Texas Rangers, and Dr Pepper here. © 2019 Texas Farm Bureau Insurance