In the 130 years since it debuted, the State Fair of Texas has welcomed millions of eager fairgoers for midway fun, livestock competitions, and, of course, fried treats.
Think you're a State Fair expert? Consider these 10 facts in preparation for this year's event, running September 30-October 23.
1. The State Fair of Texas is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
All things Texan are celebrated during this fall get-together. The people behind the fair do this by promoting agriculture, education, and community involvement through quality entertainment (everything from big-name musicians to ostrich races) in a family-friendly environment. This is the longest-running state fair in the nation, and through its rich and lengthy history has provided a place for generations to gather and make memories.
2. It embodies all aspects of Lone Star culture.
From its humble beginnings as a local fair and exposition in 1886 to helping host the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition and 1986 Texas Sesquicentennial celebration, the fair has been a cornerstone of Texas heritage. Year after year, millions of visitors come from far and wide to experience the event and say "howdy" to its beloved icon, Big Tex.
3. There's something for everyone.
With hundreds of shows, concerts, attractions, and exhibits, plus the largest new-car auto show in the Southwest, the State Fair offers weeks of entertainment options. There are also countless thrills on the midway and tasty and unique treats to be found throughout the fairgrounds.
The fair also is home of the iconic Red River Showdown, State Fair Classic, and other gridiron matches at the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium.
4. It helps keep Fair Park pretty.
A portion of the proceeds from each State Fair is invested in the upkeep and maintenance of Fair Park and its historic buildings, facilities, and Cotton Bowl Stadium — to the tune of tens of millions of dollars so far. These contributions keep this National Historic Landmark in tip-top shape and help support museum programming.
The State Fair also supports Fair Park through participation in events such as Day 1 Dallas, North Texas Irish Festival, Earth Day Texas, Fair Park Sparks, Fair Park Fourth, and Dallas Mayor’s Back to School Fair.
5. The State Fair has its own youth scholarship program.
Each year, lucky applicants receive college scholarships through the State Fair of Texas Youth Scholarship Program. Eligible recipients include graduating seniors from five DISD high schools in the Fair Park area, as well as students from around the state of Texas who have competed in State Fair livestock events.
More than 1,800 students have benefited since the program's establishment in 1992. In 2016, the Fair awarded more than $1.2 million in new college scholarships. Through the State Fair of Texas Youth Livestock Auction and Scholarship Program, the fair has awarded more than $23 million in auction awards and scholarships.
6. There are free educational programs.
Farm Day at the Fair raises awareness of agriculture for more than 7,500 elementary school children. There's also a TEKS-aligned curriculum that was developed last year in partnership with Big Thought that helps support the more than 1.8 million free admission tickets given away to students and teachers throughout North Texas. It will be expanding to include high-schoolers this year.
Don't forget about the livestock and agricultural shows, which last year saw 10,722 entries from 5,528 students — an increase of 32 percent.
7. The State Fair has a charity component.
Fairgoers donated more than 303,000 pounds of food to the North Texas Food Bank in 2015 — that translates to 221,229 meals for those in need. Since the partnership between the State Fair of Texas and North Texas Food Bank was formed in 2011, more than 1.1 million pounds of food have been donated.
Keep in mind that four canned food items at the gate will net you $4 admission to the fair this year.
8. The competitions are fierce.
Photography, canning, art, sewing, and cooking — the State Fair’s Creative Arts competitions provide endless opportunities for amateurs and professionals of all ages. Last year saw more than 8,900 entries in the more than 1,100 categories. What will you compete in this year?
9. You can get up close with a piglet.
Fairgoers can learn about the importance of farming and ranching through hands-on exhibits and demonstrations, covering everything from cow milking to hatching chicks. Calves, piglets, and more can be found at Big Tex's Farmyard, while animals from giraffes to zebras are the subject of learning opportunities.
Young fairgoers should visit Little Hands on the Farm, where they can plant seeds, gather eggs, and drive a tiny tractor before harvesting crops and taking them to market. With the earnings from the crops they sell, they can purchase a snack in the General Store.
10. Big Tex is a movie star.
In 1951, State Fair president and former Dallas mayor R.L. Thornton purchased a large Santa Claus figure from the Kerens Chamber of Commerce for $750 and commissioned local artist Jack Bridges to turn it into a giant cowboy. Big Tex debuted at the 1952 State Fair of Texas, getting his voice the next year and then a friendly wave in 1997.
In addition to appearing in the 1961 remake of the movie musical State Fair alongside Pat Boone, Ann-Margret, and Bobby Darin, he’s appeared in local, regional, national, and international news coverage. On October 19, 2012, Big Tex was destroyed by an electrical fire, the same year he celebrated his 60th birthday. A new-and-improved Big Tex returned in time to welcome fans for the 2013 State Fair.
Big Tex now stands at 55 feet tall, boasting size 96 boots that are replicas of a 1949 Lucchese design.
To learn more about the State Fair of Texas and purchase tickets, visit Bigtex.com.