Friday, October 22, 2010

History of the International Oil Exposition

I grew up knowing our city was The Oil Capital of the World as did most Tulsa citizens from my generation (and earlier).  It defined us as Tulsans for more than 50 years and was brought to our attention via the International Petroleum Exposition (lest we forget) until 1979.
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The IPE was established in 1923 to provide a venue for oilmen to buy and sell the newest equipment as well as exhibit the latest technology, and Tulsa was chosen as it's home.  The first Expo was held on October 8-14, 1923 near downtown at the Convention Hall (aka Brady Theater) and spilled out into the streets from Main to Cheyenne and Archer to Cameron.  

There were only 27 exhibits but, despite heavy rains, it drew an attendance of 14,203- enough to warrant it being continued.  The next year it was moved to the old Tulsa circus grounds where it remained until 1927.  Attendance during these years grew to well over 120,000.  Various petroleum-related industries scheduled their meetings in Tulsa during the exposition which in turn prompted many promotional booklets to be published by the Chamber of Commerce.


These have turned out to be a wonderful resource of our city's history.


In 1927 the IPE found a permanent home on acreage leased from the Tulsa State Fair.


Aviator Charles Lindbergh was a special guest and President Calvin Coolidge pressed a button in the White House that sent oil gushing at a simulated derrick on the IPE grounds.


The Depression caused the show to be held only in 1930, 1934, 1936, 1938 and 1940- at which time the exhibits had mushroomed to 628 and attendance 194,491.

The exposition was suspended for the next 8 years due to WWII.

Despite the attendance of more than 300,000 visitors at the 1948 show, the board of directors voted to hold it every five years due to logistics and financial difficulties.  And so the IPE was held in 1953, 1959, 1966, 1971, 1976 and 1979.

The crowds continued to swell to over 300,000 in the 1950's and 1960's.  In 1966 all of the IPE buildings were demolished and a ten-acre exhibition hall was constructed with Mid-Continent Supply placing the 8-story-tall Golden Driller statue at the entrance.



The attendance at the 1966 IPE was the largest ever and it's future seemed assured.  But the oil slump in the 1970's struck and after an attendance of only 26,000 in 1979, the 57 yr old event was cancelled permanently.  

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