KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Scruffy Little City did it! This month is the 40th anniversary of the 1982 World’s Fair and there are several fun facts you may not have known about the exhibition.
The World’s Fair Park was created for the 1982 World’s Fair. Prior to the fair, the area used to be an abandoned railroad yard. Developers for the fair took the yard and completely renovated it. According to the World’s Fair website, the rail station and foundry were also renovated to hold restaurant space, offices for fair officials, and VIP rooms.
The fair opened on May 1, 1982, and the opening speaker was President Ronald Reagan. An enthusiastic 11-year-old from Knoxville, Omar Baldonado, collected $120 in pennies to buy the President and First Lady season passes to attend the fair. Reagan addressed Omar in his opening speech saying, “Well, Omar, we thanked you just up here, where no one could hear, but Nancy and I are honored that you would work so that we could visit your hometown and this magnificent World’s Fair.”
The icon that we all know and love, The Sunsphere, was created just for the fair and was the symbol for the event. During the fair, you could take a ride to the top of the sphere, where there was an observation deck and full-service restaurant for just $2. The restaurant featured Sunsphere-inspired foods such as the “Sunburger” and a cocktail called the “Sunburst”. The windows are made with 24-karat gold dust and stretch five stories tall.
Many people were skeptical that Knoxville could host a successful World’s Fair. A report in the Wall Street Journal referred to Knoxville as the “Scruffy Little City” and stated that it would not be a good location to host the fair, but Knoxville proved them wrong! The fair was a huge success bringing in 11 million people throughout the duration of the fair. After the success officials made buttons that said, “The Scruffy Little City Did It.”
According to Knoxville’s website, prices during the World’s Fair were quite different then they are now. In 1982, a gallon of gas would cost you $1.30, a first-class stamp was only 20 cents, and the median income of a household was only $20,171.
Petro’s Chili made its debut at the World’s Fair. What is now known as “The Petro ” was originally called the “Petroleum Belly” and was a Fritos bag filled with chili and plenty of toppings and it was a huge hit at the fair. The title of the chili tied in with the energy theme of the World’s Fair as well as other names like regular, premium, and unleaded Petro.
Visit Knoxville is hosting a kick-off celebration honoring the 40th anniversary of the 1982 World’s Fair on Saturday, May 21 at World’s Fair Park. Admission is free.
Celebration activities will include performances, food trucks, exhibits, plus a splash of 80s music during the fireworks. The 1982 World’s Fair debuted on May 1, and Knoxville’s Sunsphere was built for the event some four decades ago.