1982 World’s Fair

1982 World’s Fair
Throughout the ’80s, I was lucky enough to go on some pretty cool family vacations. One of the most memorable was in 1982. My parents happened to have friends that lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, which was the location of the 1982 World’s Fair.

So, 30 years ago this August, we loaded up the station wagon (with fake wood paneling, of course) and drove on down to Tennessee. It took 2-3 days to drive down. I can’t remember what the seating arrangements were on that drive. Either my sister, brother and I all sat next to each other, or we shoved my little brother in the “back-back” with the luggage. In any case, the drive was uneventful. Our car did not get vandalized, we did not stop at any crazy relatives’ houses, and we did not drag a dog by the bumper. And unfortunately, there was no Christie Brinkely driving alongside of us.
However when we arrived, The World’s Fair was NOT closed for repairs.



Driving into Knoxville, I remember being awestruck at the site of the Sunsphere, a 266-foot (81 m) steel tower topped with a five-story gold globe. I didn’t really know what this World’s Fair was, but I was psyched to be there!

The 1982 World’s Fair opened on May 1, 1982, and closed on October 31, 1982, and was located between downtown Knoxville and the University of Tennessee. The centerpiece was the Sunsphere, which was a restaurant.

The Fair was formally known as the Knoxville International Energy Exposition. The theme was “Energy Turns the World.” It would be another 14 years before I would make my first trip to Disney World. After going to Epcot for the first time, I saw great similarities between The World’s Fair and Epcot (before Epcot starting putting in rides). The World’s Fair had several participating countries, which had exhibits in their own buildings, called Pavilions.

With the theme being about energy, and no thrill rides to be found, you would think that an 11-year old would be bored to tears. But, it was so cool, and I had a great time. Each country had some artifacts from their homeland, and also showed off their state-of-the-art technology.

One of the main attractions was China’s pavilion. This was China’s first world’s fair appearance since 1904. They displayed fancy jade and ivory carvings, hand-painted porcelain, as well as tapestries and silks and carpets.

Egypt had all kinds of cool treasures. Peru had all kinds of gold and silver relics and a 3,000-year-old mummy.

Japan was more high tech as it had talking robots. Most of the countries had all kinds of information about energy. They showcased their contributions to conserving energy, and making it’s use more efficient.

Hungary was no exception. Now let’s go into their pavilion, and see how they take crude material, and study the process they use to convert it to…Holy Crap!! A giant Rubik’s Cube!!! One of the most memorable items at the World’s Fair was the giant Rubik’s Cube. It was automated, and solved itself every few minutes. It was at this pavilion because the puzzle was invented by Hungarian architect Dr. Erno Rubik. This was at the height of the Rubik’s Cube craze, so this was a big deal. This cube was so iconic that it is still around as it has been displayed in the Knoxville Convention Center.

Perhaps one of the most memorable part of the fair for me was the IMAX theater at the U.S. pavilion. I had never heard of IMAX before. It was definitely not your run of the mill movie screen! The IMAX screen was 67 feet high and 90 feet wide. The movie content itself was pretty dry, as it told the story of America’s energy – past, present and future. But the giant screen made it pretty cool.

I had a great time at the World’s Fair. I also learned a thing or two. In the school year that followed, we had to do a science project. This project consisted of a report, poster board, and presentation. Of course, I did my project on energy. I used the information I learned at the World’s Fair, and actually got an A on the project! And trust me, from junior High all the way through high school, I did not get A’s in ANYTHING – except for gym. So for me to get an A on something, especially in science, it was a huge deal.

There were over 11 million visitors to the 1982 World’s Fair. Were you among them? Do you have any memories about it? Did you go on any interesting family road trips?

2 thoughts on “1982 World’s Fair”

  1. My parents took me to the Knoxville fair. We also attended University of Tennessee football games on the edge of the site. I remember that the Ferris Wheel was taller than the stadium.


  2. I watched the Steelers/Patriots preseason game that was played at that stadium. Unlike the clip of them in the video above, both teams were not wearing colored jerseys.


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