Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)

This year marks the 124th year of the Texas State Fair.  Naturally, it’s the biggest state fair in the nation and among the 200 food venders set up this year, they have figured out a way to deep fry anything that is considered edible – even butter.  I think they call it a heart attack-on-a-stick!

The State Fair got its start in 1886, but it wasn’t without its problems.  During the early years, financial struggles plagued the Fair. But, determination saw it through to better days and it has grown from a modest state exhibition to multi-million dollar an international affair. 

Early on, differences between its charter members led to a split and thus the Dallas State Fair and Exposition on the outskirts in east Dallas was born and its cross town rival, the Texas State Fair, set up shop in north Dallas.  While both were fairly well attended, the two groups put their differences aside and combined efforts the following year and held the “granddaddy” of today’s annual event, the Texas State Fair & Dallas Exposition.

The Fair has boasted the latest modern inventions, prized livestock, international art exhibits, presidents and foreign leaders, and of course some of the best football around. President William Howard Taft was in attendance in 1909 and President Woodrow Wilson delivered a speech in 1911. 

The Fair was on hiatus in 1942-1945 as the Greatest Generation headed off to war and the grounds served as a military encampment. But the post-war boom across the country saw the fair grow to over 2 million visitors in the following years.

The 1950s saw the introduction of Big Tex, the world’s most recognizable Texas-sized cowboy.  And, none other than the King of Rock himself, Elvis Presley, performed at the Cotton Bowl to thousands and thousands of screaming fans.  The list of notable celebrities and international figures goes on and on, year after year. 

The 60s and 70s continued to break attendance records and marked expansion. Another record was set in 1985 as legendary coach Eddie Robinson led the Grambling University Tigers to victory over Prairie View in the Cotton Bowl to become the winningest coach in college football.  In 1986, the Fair was designated as a National Historical Landmark by the Department of the Interior.  Not for the legendary football that had been played as could be argued by most Texans, but as the last “intact Depression-era exposition site in the United States.” 

While so much has grown and changed over the years, I remember my days as a kid at the Fair.  I lived in Dallas for a little while growing up and my best friend, Dennis Dossey, and I would take our wagons with us to the State Fair so that we could collect discarded Coke bottles.  They didn’t have cans in those days, and turning in bottles could make you some big money – two cents a piece!  Really, two cents went a lot further then.

But I can’t talk about the Fair without mentioning one of my favorite traditions – the Longhorns tromping that team from Oklahoma. But, I’d really rather not get into that this year.  However, the Red-River Shootout is one of the best college football rivalries in American sports and synonymous with the State Fair. (I know they call it something else now, but it’s still the Shootout to me!)

While the rivalry dates back to 1900, “OU weekend” has been drawing sell-out crowds to the Cotton Bowl year after year since 1929.  The Cotton Bowl is exactly 198 miles from Austin and 192 miles from Norman – an obvious disadvantage for the Longhorns this year.

The Texas-OU football game was actually brought in as a main attraction to replace horse racing after the State Legislature outlawed gambling and were struggling to make ends meet.  It didn’t take long for Fair officials to realize the draw of this interstate rivalry. In 1930, after only one year of play, Fair officials decided to raze the racetrack and build a 46,000-seat stadium at the park that later became known as our beloved Cotton Bowl. 

While the Horns may have come up short this year, the millions of visitors to this year’s Texas State Fair certainly will not.  Whether it is Big Tex, the “Texas Star” or the deep-fried fantasyland is what you love about going to the Fair, there is something for everyone of every age.   For 124 years, the State Fair has been showcasing the latest and greatest and continues to be largest event of its kind outdoing all the rest.  But is that really a surprise?  Everyone knows everything is bigger, and better, in Texas!   

And that’s just the way it is.