Home Corndog Chronicles Behind the Scenes: The History of the Tulsa State Fair

Behind the Scenes: The History of the Tulsa State Fair

blog thumbnail
The Tulsa State Fair has a rich history in Oklahoma, but have you ever wondered how Tulsa’s 11 Days of Awesome started?

The Tulsa State Fair originated between the early 1890s and 1900s as a humble street fair, which grew into the Tulsa County Free Fair in 1903. The Tulsa County Free Fair was held at the Western Association baseball park at Archer Street and Boston Avenue. In 1915, the Oklahoma Free Fair Act was passed, which provided 15 acres of land north of Archer and Lewis to provide a better setting for the annual event.

The Tulsa County Free Fair (Photo Credit: Oklahoma State University)The Tulsa County Free Fair (Photo Credit: Oklahoma State University)

As excitement and participation surged for the Tulsa County Free Fair, it found a new home at Expo Square, a venue now affectionately recognized by all Tulsans. This was thanks to J.E. Crosbie, a Tulsa oilman who gifted the land as a donation in 1923 to accommodate the ever-growing event. In 1931, a $500,000 bond was issued that helped construct the Pavillion. During that time, the Fair Board obtained land near the gifted lot from J.E. Crosbie. In 1935, legislation was passed that made the local Free Fair an official State Fair. It was from this juncture that the beloved Tulsa State Fair, as we now recognize it, came into existence.

Tulsa Fairgrounds circa 1950s (Photo Credit: Oklahoma Historical Society)Tulsa Fairgrounds circa 1950s (Photo Credit: Oklahoma Historical Society)

In 1949, the Tulsa State Fair integrated a spring livestock show, mirroring the essence of the Fair's present-day appearance. In 1958, annual Fair attendance reached 6,000 people, and for many subsequent years, the Tulsa State Fair held the distinction of being the largest Fair in the state of Oklahoma. According to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, the Tulsa State Fair has historically been among the top 15 Fairs annually. 

Tulsa State Fair 2023Tulsa State Fair 2023

Gerald Young, the Consumer Event Coordinator since 1979, has witnessed firsthand the numerous changes undergone by the Tulsa State Fair, and he offered valuable insight into its evolution.“I have seen a lot of changes in my 50 years as an employee,” Gerald said. “Perhaps one of the biggest and best changes is the carnival provider, North American Midway Expositions. They’re one of the biggest operators, they are professional, and they’re just great to work with overall. In all the years I've been here, teaming up with them has proven to be the best change we've made.”

Today, the landscape bears little resemblance to the past, yet the essence of fun and celebration endures. Reflecting on the transformations, Gerald remarked, "I vividly recall the attendance of 1978. The first Saturday alone drew over 200,000 people, marking a milestone." With an estimated 1.2 million attendees in 2022, the Fair's remarkable journey from modest origins is a testament to its enduring appeal as one of Oklahoma's cherished traditions, promising entertainment, joy, and lasting memories for all who attend the 11 Days of Awesome.

Ride All Day, Every Day <span>11 Days of Gate Admission & Unlimited Rides*</span>
Ride All Day, Every Day 11 Days of Gate Admission & Unlimited Rides*
*Does not include extreme rides
Desktop background
Desktop backgroundDesktop background
Mobile Background
Mobile BackgroundMobile Background