The 1982 World's Fair, formally known as the Knoxville International Energy Exposition, was held in Knoxville, Tennessee, United States. The theme of the exposition was "Energy Turns the World."
It opened on May 1, 1982, and closed on October 31, 1982, after receiving over 11 million visitors. Participating nations included Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United States, and West Germany.
The fair was constructed on a 70-acre (280,000 m2) site between downtown Knoxville and the University of Tennessee. The core of the site primarily consisted of a deteriorating Louisville and Nashville Railroad yard and depot. The railroad yard was demolished, with the exception of a single rail line, and the depot was renovated into a restaurant. The Sunsphere, a 266-foot (81 m) steel tower topped with a five-story gold globe, was built for the 1982 World's Fair. It still stands and remains a symbol for the city of Knoxville.
In 2007, the East Tennessee Historical Society opened an exhibit commemorating the 25th anniversary of the World's Fair.
The idea for a World's Fair in Knoxville came from the example of Spokane, Washington, which hosted a World's Fair in 1974. W. Stewart Evans, president of the Downtown Knoxville Association, came up with the idea of hosting a fair in Knoxville and presented it to the city government.
Knoxville Mayor Kyle Testerman appointed banker Jake Butcher to lead an exploratory committee on the fair, and Butcher served as the driving force behind the fair. Within the city, many people referred to the event as "Jake's Fair". The organizing body was the Knoxville Foundation Inc. There was skepticism about the ability of Knoxville, described as a "scruffy little city" by a national publication, to successfully host a World's Fair.
This was the second World's Fair to be held in Tennessee. The state's first endeavor was the Tennessee Centennial Exposition of 1897, held in Nashville.
On May 1, 1982, the 1982 World's Fair opened with the theme "Energy Turns the World". Television commercials broadcast prior to the fair used the marketing tagline "You've Got To Be There". The opening ceremony was broadcast on local and regional TV, with President Ronald Reagan arriving to open the fair. TV personality Dinah Shore was the master of ceremonies, and artists such as Porter Wagoner and Ricky Skaggs performed as the gates opened. A six-month pass to the fair sold for $100.
The fair drew over 11 million visitors, making it one of the most popular world's fairs in US history, and even turned a small profit ($57), but short of the projected $5 million surplus. Knoxville itself was left with a $46 million debt.
Participating nations included Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United States, and West Germany. Panama never occupied its pavilion space, which was eventually occupied by a group of Caribbean Island nations.
The Peruvian exhibit featured a mummy that was unwrapped and studied at the fair. The Egyptian exhibit featured ancient artifacts valued at over thirty million dollars. Hungary, the home country of the Rubik's Cube, sent a large, automated Rubik's Cube with rotating squares for the entrance to its pavilion. The cube is still present in downtown Knoxville, where it has been displayed in the lobby of the Holiday Inn World's Fair Park. Every night of the fair, at 10 pm, a 10-minute fireworks display was presented that could be seen over much of Knoxville.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots played a preseason football game at Neyland Stadium on August 14, 1982. The Steelers won the game 24–20.
A TV station, KM2XKA on Channel 7, was built for the fair, initially specializing in World's Fair information. It later converted to DTV-only WMAK, an independent station.
Local hotels and other accommodations were not allowed to take reservations directly. Room reservations for everything from hotels to houseboats sold in a package with fair admission tickets through the first 11 days of the fair, handled by a central bureau, Knoxvisit. However, financial and administrative troubles pushed reservations to be taken over by PLM, which itself filed for bankruptcy and was mired in its own difficulties.
After Jake Butcher's United American Bank failed the year after the fair (on February 14, 1983, when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation took over the bank due to irregularities in financial records), there was speculation that the failure was due in part to his financing of the World's Fair.
In 1991, the city of Knoxville demolished the US Pavilion in a controlled blast. This was due to structural failure that could not be safely resolved. The cleared site became a parking lot along Cumberland Avenue, adjacent to the current site of the Knoxville Convention Center in what is now called World's Fair Park. The former site of the Korean and Saudi Arabian pavilions and the Tennessee Gas Industries exhibit became host to a regular concert series for eight years. The site of the Japanese Pavilion became the new location for the Knoxville Museum of Art. The Elm Tree Theater next door was converted to part of a courtyard of the Museum. The Elm Tree was later killed by lightning and what remains is now an empty courtyard. Many of the other locations of pavilions south of the park reverted to the University of Tennessee.
In 1996, Knoxville and the World's Fair figured prominently in an episode of The Simpsons. In the episode, Bart and his friends travel to visit the fair, only to be disappointed to learn of its closure over a decade previously.
In 2000, the park was closed for two years while a convention center was added in the space formerly occupied by Rich's/Millers Garage, the KUB Substation and the former site of America's Electric Energy Exhibit.
In 2002, the World's Fair Park was reopened to general events and concerts, such as Earth Fest and Greek Fest. A July 4 celebration is held there every year with the Knoxville Symphony playing a free concert with a massive fireworks display. The July 4, 2007, celebration was held in conjunction with festivities commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the 1982 World's Fair.
The following day, July 5, 2007, the Sunsphere's observation deck reopened to the public.
The Tennessee Amphitheater, the only other structure other than the Sunsphere that remains from the World's Fair, was condemned to demolition in 2002 but was renovated between 2005 and 2007, reopening in 2007 with then-Mayor Bill Haslam's inaugural address for his second term. The amphitheater was voted one of the top 15 architectural works of East Tennessee by the East Tennessee chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
Seven video arcade game tokens were minted for the 1982 World's Fair, each depicting a different game. These tokens were given out at the arcade at the World's Fair itself. The seven games on each of the tokens are Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Qix, Gorf, Scramble, and Donkey Kong. A special Coca-Cola pin was given to 500 dignitaries on opening day.
The Knoxville World's Fair debuted several new inventions, including touch screen display screens, Tetra Pak boxed shelf-stable milk, and the Cherry Coke flavor by Coca-Cola. The fast food chain Petro's Chili & Chips also debuted there.