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November 29, 2018

HemisFair 1968: A Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas

The Space Needle in downtown Seattle,1 the Unisphere in the heart of New York City,2 the Eiffel Tower in bustling Paris, France3 — these are but a couple examples of the monuments left behind by the presence of a world’s fair. By the same token, it was the 1968 World’s Fair, held in San Antonio, Texas, that prompted the creation of the famed Tower of the Americas. Since its inception, the city of San Antonio has always represented a junction of many different cultures. Within the city limits, the people of San Antonio have experienced a plethora of struggles, victories, and losses. Determined to share the city’s unique trials and tribulations with the world, a man named Jerome K. Harris proposed that a world’s fair be held to celebrate the 250th anniversary of San Antonio’s establishment.4

Harris was no stranger to the idea of money and power, but he could not push forward such a large-scale event without the help of some other notable businessmen and policymakers from San Antonio. Accordingly, he searched long and far for a group of distinguished members of the San Antonio community who he believed could help him achieve his end goal. After only a few months, Harris had put together a group of well known individuals, including William R. Sinkin, H. B. “Pat” Zachry, James Gaines, and Henry B. Gonzales, to name a few. Thanks to a combination of San Antonio underwriters, voter-approved city bonds, Urban Renewal agency funds, and the Texas State Legislature, the group was eventually able to raise $11,375,000 towards the project. Although the group had done a great job raising funding for the event, it was actually the international community that allowed Hemisfair to reach a grand total of $156,000,000. This grand-scale event would ultimately spawn many different buildings, including the Convention Center and Arena, the Institute of Texan Cultures, the John H. Wood Federal Courthouse and, of course, the aforementioned Tower of the Americas.5

With the funding secured, the group turned its attention to planning the event that would, unbeknownst to them, eventually cement San Antonio as the top tourist destination in Texas. In order to plan such a large-scale event like this one, the group found itself catering to many different international interests. Finally, after months of hard work and intensive planning, the Paris-based Bureau of International Expositions awarded the city of San Antonio with official fair status in November 1965, thus recognizing the first world’s fair not only in the state of Texas but in the whole southern half of the United States.6

HemisFair ’68 Poster | Courtesy of The HemisFair Conservancy

On April 6, 1968, San Antonio locals and visitors alike awoke to a perfect 65-degree morning. The weather made for a perfect day to make history. As the many visitors stepped onto the 96.2-acre fairground on the southeastern edge of downtown San Antonio, the first thing they noticed was the almost endless amount of colorful tents set up for vendors of food, games, and education. Approximately twenty government agencies and ten private corporations from around the world participated and sponsored their own entertainment and education pavilions in order to convey the theme of “A Confluence of Cultures.” HemisFair would continue for six months, finally coming to an end on October 6, 1968. Within these six months, more than six million people of varying nationality and culture would attend the fair. In total, the fair boasted representation for a total of thirty different nations.7 In this regard, HemisFair was truly a confluence of cultures, a bastion of the idea of diversity that still resides in San Antonio today.

  1. American Decades Primary Sources, 2004, s.v. “Space Needle at World’s Fair.”
  2. Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, 2004, s.v. “New York World’s Fair (1939–1940),” by Isadora Anderson Helfgott.
  3. Dorling Kindersley, 2012, s.v. “DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Paris.”
  4. Cities of the United States, 2012, s.v. “San Antonio.”
  5. Cities of the United States, 2012, s.v. “San Antonio.”
  6. Dictionary of American History, 2003, s.v. “World’s Fairs,” by Robert Rydell.
  7. American Decades, 2001, s.v. “World’s Fairs.”

Tags from the story


Hispanic History of San Antonio

San Antonio

San Antonio History

The Year 1968

Tower of the Americas

World’s Fair

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