State Fair of Texas
The State Fair of Texas has been a major state event since 1886, when the Dallas State Fair opened in East Dallas on land that would become Fair Park. When the rival Texas State Fair & Exposition merged with the Dallas State Fair the next year, attendance soared, more land was purchased, and the Texas State Fair & Dallas Exposition was born. In the coming decades, the State Fair saw visits from national figures such as John Philip Sousa, William Jennings Bryan, Carrie Nation, Booker T. Washington, Elvis Presley, and Presidents Taft, Wilson, and Nixon.
The annual Texas-OU football game, now known as the Red River Rivalry, became a fixture of the State Fair beginning in 1929, with Fair Park Stadium (renamed the Cotton Bowl) erected on the old race track the following year. The 52 foot “talking” cowboy figure known as Big Tex first greeted fair visitors in 1952 and soon became the face of the fair.
Fair Park was officially designated as a National Historical Landmark in 1986, with a record-setting attendance of nearly four million. In the 2000s, the State Fair of Texas also gained notoriety for its unusual fried foods, with contests highlighting such items as fried butter, fried coke, and fried bacon.