The First Fair of Its Kind

Knoxville's 1913 National Conservation Exposition
October 12, 2013 to October 13, 2013
Online Exhibition

1913 National Conservation Exposition CrestModern. Progressive. Knoxvillians at the turn of the twentieth century often used similar words to describe their hometown, a city short of 40,000 residents but long on the dream of outpacing other great Southern cities, such as Atlanta.

Knoxville’s internal vision and drive, however, did not match outsiders’ estimation of the Appalachian South, a region critically characterized as backwards, unprogressive. So in 1910, Knoxville aimed to set the record straight by organizing an Appalachian Exposition, a month-long fair held in Chilhowee Park that put on display the region’s advances in agriculture, industry, and commerce, while tempering the popularized image of the “highlander.”

The Appalachian Exposition’s success led to a second fair in 1911, and had it wanted to, Knoxville could have organized another for 1912. Instead, city leaders chose to regroup and plan “an exposition of nationwide importance” for 1913. This fair—the National Conservation Exposition—was, according to its chairman W. M. Goodman, a celebration unlike any other, the first of its kind to display conservation-themed exhibitions that “looked forward, pointing the way to better conditions” and “stood second to no enterprise…as an agency for the promotion of the best interests of mankind, natural and ethical.”

Like its forerunners, the 1913 National Conservation Exposition was a success. U.S. Secretary of Labor W. B. Wilson deemed it “a great exposition in every sense of the word. Not only the best by far ever held in the South, but in many respects one of the greatest expositions ever held anywhere.”

On the occasion of the National Conservation Exposition’s centennial, this exhibition looks back on the two-month fair from the vantage point of its chairman, W. M. Goodman. The photographs (all by James E. Thompson, courtesy of the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection, Knox County Public Library) and caption information were originally included in Goodman’s official history of the exposition.

Conservation Expo 2013 Logo
Presenting Sponsor: 
Knox County Public Library
City of Knoxville

To learn more about Knoxville’s 1913 National Conservation Exposition, visit the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection, Knox County Public Library, located in the East Tennessee History Center at 601 South Gay Street.

Additional images from the National Conservation Exposition are available online through the McClung Historical Collection’s digital archives.