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The World’s Fair 40th Anniversary

In 1982, 40 years ago this year, Knoxville held the World’s Fair. 11 million people came to Knoxville to experience the hospitality of East Tennessee and cultures from around the world. The World’s Fair Anniversary is a very special event for Knoxville! In this blog post we want to cover:

  • History of the event
  • How to get involved and celebrate this year!


The World’s Fair in Knoxville was a new idea for the city. After seeing Spokane, Washington host a World’s Fair in 1974, Knoxville decided to put the event in motion. Knoxville’s previous event, The Knoxville International Energy Exposition, was renamed to The World’s Fair, with a theme of “Energy Turns the World.” They set up the event in an abandoned railroad yard next to what is currently known as Downtown Knoxville and The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s campus.

It had a relatively long event date, beginning May 1st by Ronald Reagan at the Court of Flags and continuing until October 31st. This allowed countless people and 22 countries to participate in the event. Some notable countries include Australia, Denmark, Egypt, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and several more. Something notable about Knoxville’s World’s Fair is that it was the first-ever in the south and the last successful World’s Fair held in America.

Cost and Pricing

The World’s Fair cost the city $42 million of bonds to help support this event. That’s $134 million in today’s currency! They finally paid off the debt in 2007, after 25 years. Ticket prices for Adults were $9.95 and Children’s tickets were $8.95. For reference, a gallon of gas was $1.30, and the median household income was $20,000. The cost of producing the event may seem high, but the advertisement for the city and numerous visitors who fell in love with Knoxville made the event worthwhile.

What Remains?

The Sunsphere, Knoxville’s Iconic landmark, was originally built as the theme structure for the World’s Fair. It stands tall in Knoxville to this day, and provides a 360-degree view of the Great Smoky Mountains, the Tennessee River, and UT’s Campus on the 4th-floor observation deck! On that floor, you can also find a 1982 World’s Fair timeline, gallery, memorabilia, and gift shop waiting for you!

The event had several other items and structures that we still see today. In the Knoxville Convention Center, there is the 216-cubic-foot Rubik’s cube from the Hungarian Pavilion. The Tennessee Amphitheater is another landmark from the event. It closed in 2002 but reopened without taxpayers money by Bill Haslam.

Events Highlighting the World’s Fair 40th Anniversary

Check out the events happening this year to celebrate the World’s Fair Anniversary:

  • World’s Fair Beer Expo – April 1st
  • 1982 World’s Fair 40th Anniversary Celebration – May 21st
  • Children’s Festival of Reading – May 21st
  • You Should Have Been There Interactive Exhibit – Open until October 9th

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