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HemisFair'68

A Guide to HemisFair '68 history and resources at UTSA Libraries

HemisFair History

When HemisFair '68 opened on April 6, 1968 it held the honor of being the only "world's fair" that year to be sanctioned by the Paris-based Bureau of International Expositions, and the first world's fair ever to be held in Texas.

Vision

In 1958, a handful of San Antonio businessmen had a vision of a world's fair in San Antonio, Texas. Department store executive Jerome K. Harris proposed a fair to be held in 1968 to celebrate 250th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio and the shared cultural heritage of San Antonio and its Latin American neighbors. His idea gained the support of San Antonio Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, and local businessmen William R. Sinkin, H. B. (Pat) Zachry, and James Gaines who soon began to cultivate support for "HemisFair '68."

Theme

In keeping with Jerome K. Harris' original idea of celebrating the shared cultural heritage of San Antonio and its neighbors, the theme of HemisFair '68 was "The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas."

Viva HemisFair poster

Image: Viva HemisFair poster, San Antonio Fair, Inc. Records

Photograph of painting by Warren Hunter of HemisFair site

Image: Photograph of painting by Warren Hunter of HemisFair site (Folder 333:11), San Antonio Fair, Inc., Records

Organization

The organizing of the fair demanded years of planning, coordinated investment, the support of all levels of city, state, and federal government, and massive time and commitment from the persons involved. In December of 1962, the San Antonio Fair, Inc. incorporated to formally begin planning, lobbying, fundraising and designing HemisFair '68.

Before incorporating as San Antonio Fair, Inc., the planners worked as the "Fair of the Americas Planning Committee." The images to the left show the transformation of both the letterhead and the positions held by the planners (click for images of full letters).

Dates & Attendance

The fair was open for six months from April 6, 1968 to October 6, 1968. 

Figures for attendance fell short of the initial predictions of 7.2 million persons, and were actually closer to 6.4 million people. Contributing factors which may have influenced the lower than expected attendance included the assassination of Martin Luther King two days before HemisFair '68 opened; racial unrest and riots throughout the U.S. that summer; the assassination in June 1968 of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy; and political turmoil surrounding the war in Vietnam and the Democratic National Convention.

Finances

The fair was supported by:

  • 450 San Antonio underwriters (local business firms and individuals)
  • Voter-approved San Antonio City bonds
  • Urban Renewal Agency funds
  • An appropriation of $4,500,000 by the Texas State Legislature
  • Two appropriations ($125,000 in 1965 and $6.75 million in 1966) by the U.S. Congress

Image:  "HemisFair Means Money for Texas," San Antonio Express and News, 6 February 1965 (Folder 340:8), San Antonio Fair, Inc., Records

"HemisFair Means Money for Texas," San Antonio Express and News, 6 February 1965

Participants

Cultural pavilions were sponsored by the governments of 21 different countries:

  • Belgium
  • Bolivia
  • Canada
  • China
  • Costa Rica
  • El Salvador
  • France
  • West Germany
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Thailand
  • United States of America

Industrial pavilions were sponsored by corporations such as:

  • Bell Systems
  • Coca-Cola
  • Eastman-Kodak
  • Falstaff Brewing
  • Ford Motor Co.
  • Frito-Lay/Pepsico
  • General Electric
  • General Motors
  • Humble Oil and Refining Co.
  • Pearl Brewing Co.