Shoebox Collection

The Knoxville History Project Continues Its Series on Little-Known Photographs Submitted by Locals

At the nonprofit Knoxville History Project we are always on the lookout for old images for our Knoxville Shoebox digital collection. If you have interesting photographs, from any era, we’d love to hear from you so we can preserve the visual history of Knoxville and make them available for researchers of the future. Please contact us at (865) 337-7723 or email Paul@KnoxHistoryProject.org. Learn more at KnoxvilleHistoryProject.org.


Between May 1 and October 31, 1982, Knoxville’s World’s Fair attracted 11 million visitors in its six-month run. Nothing embodied the Fair’s theme “Energy Turns the World” more than the iconic Sunsphere designed by Knoxville’s own Community Tectonics Architects. Visitors could ride the elevator up the 266-foot-tall structure to a restaurant with a 360-degree view of the Fair grounds and, to the south, the Great Smoky Mountains. Another way to enjoy the view and get around the Fair was to take the elevated Chair Lift or Gondola. This spring, numerous organizations will host public events to celebrate the Fair’s 40th anniversary. The Knoxville History Project will document the history of the spectacle and maybe help us understand its lasting impact. Shared by Gary McMahon.

China Pavilion

The People’s Republic of China’s first-ever World’s Fair pavilion was the Knoxville’s Fair’s most popular with long lines forming every day as soon as the Fair opened. Visitors were treated to a cultural display including the famous ancient terracotta warriors, bricks from the Great Wall of China, and artists, including one who painted delicate designs on the inside of miniature bottles. Other countries promised their own spectacles: Japan had its painting robot, Peru displayed an ancient mummy, controversially unwrapped during the Fair, Hungary had a giant Rubik’s cube (that year’s most popular toy), while Great Britain claimed to have Princess Diana’s own Mini Metro automobile, which she drove before the royal wedding just the year before. Shared by James D. Baeske.

State of Tennessee Amphitheatre 

Still standing today, the “futuristic” State of Tennessee Amphitheatre provided seating for almost 1,500 spectators, and its open-sided feature allowed thousands more to watch from around the Fair site. The building is a rare architectural landmark, noted for its 76-foot peaks of tensile fabric, an early design by globally renowned German modernist engineer Horst Berger—but some wags preferred to call it "Dolly's Bra." Well-known entertainers who performed at the amphitheater included Richie Havens, Leon Redbone, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the young Ricky Skaggs, and, every day, the musical Sing Tennessee troupe.  Shared by Parker Stair.

Folklife Festival

According to the Official Guidebook, every week the Folklife Festival, located at the most northern edge of the World’s Fair, promised “a new cast of musicians, dancers, craftspeople, storytellers, and moonshine makers” to showcase the many sides of Appalachian culture. Among the many demonstrations by basket makers, quilters, and blacksmiths, was a folk-art sculpture garden and a working moonshine still. Here, Tennessee musician and storyteller Hamper McBee offers visitors a whiff of something else he excelled in: moonshine. Several now-legendary blues and country musicians performed here. Shared by Miller Callaway.

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