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Taking a look back at the history of the State Fair of Texas

Did you know the Cotton Bowl used to be a race track complex? How about what the first Big Tex Choice Award winners? Here is a look at the history of the state fair.

DALLAS — Every year, there are a lot of new foods, attractions and events at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas. This year's fair is no exception.

But with a state fair that has been around for more than a century, there is plenty of history that some people might not know about.

When the first state fair was proposed in 1886, the local leaders and directors couldn't decide where the event should take place. So, there were two fairs.

RELATED: The quirky history of the State Fair of Texas

The Dallas State Fair took place on 80 acres of land where it is held today - at Fair Park.

There was also the Texas State Fair, which happened near present-day North Dallas High School.

The two sides eventually came together and decided on Fair Park as the location for one fair, which is where it is held today.

Credit: Public Domain
From 1886, this is a Dallas Herald newspaper advertisement for the Dallas State Fair.

It was soon after that attendance and national recognition started to rise. In 1905, a new record 300,000 people attended the fair. President William Howard Taft visited in 1909 and Woodrow Wilson in 1911. Attendance topped the one million mark in 1916. 

Up until 1930, there was a race track complex inside Fair Park. However, that year, it was torn down to make way for a 46,000-seat Fair Park Stadium. Today, this stadium has nearly doubled in capacity... and is now known as the Cotton Bowl.

This venue was used for football as well as shows and concerts, including one that showcased a young Elvis Presley in the 1950s. Vice President Richard Nixon visited during this time period. This was also the first appearance of Big Texas, the 52-foot cowboy figure placed in the center of the grounds.

Credit: AP
In this Sept. 27, 2002 file photo, Big Tex welcomes visitors to the Texas State Fair in Dallas. Fire destroyed Big Tex on Friday, Oct. 19, leaving behind little more than the metal frame of the 52-foot-tall metal-and-fabric cowboy that is an icon of the State Fair of Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

In 1985, the Texas State Ferris Wheel debuted at the fair. At the time, it was the largest in North America at 212-feet tall. It has since been passed by the Wheel at ICON Park in Orlando and the High Roller in Las Vegas.

The very next year, Fair Park was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

RELATED: Fair Park museums set to showcase new pieces of history at the State Fair of Texas

In 1988, the State Fair of Texas season was extended from 17 days to 24 days. This meant it was officially the longest-running state fair in the country - which still stands today.

The first Big Tex Choice Awards took place in 2005, which is a contest that highlights concessionaires who fry up tasty and unique foods.

In 2005, Best Taste went to Fried Peanut Butter and Jelly Banana Sandwich and Most Creative went to Viva Las Vegas Fried Ice Cream.

Credit: State Fair of Texas
During the first Big Tex Choice Awards in 2005, the award for Best Taste went to Fried Peanut Butter and Jelly Banana Sandwich.

On the final Friday of the 2012 State Fair of Texas, an electrical malfunction to Big Tex caused a fire that destroyed the cowboy.

By the very next fair, a new and improved Big Tex had been built. The bigger and sturdier Big Tex has old-school Lucchese boots to honor the cowboy's historic relationship with Texas. His shoe size is 96.

So while a lot has changed and has some stayed the same, the State Fair of Texas has created its own memories that have made it into the larger-than-life event it is today.

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