Do you remember the International Petroleum Exposition?
The event's only visual reminders today are the Golden Driller statue, which debuted at the 1953 IPE, and the event’s first permanent building.
The Tulsa Fairgrounds during the International Petroleum Exposition in the 1950s
Tulsa Historical Society and Museum
The International Petroleum Exposition was founded in 1923 by a group of businessmen to capitalize on early Tulsa’s oil influence. However, the first IPE nearly got rained out.
The outdoor expo lasted six wet days in October in downtown Tulsa, drawing 14,000 people to roped-off streets near Convention Hall (now the Brady Theater). Locals and dignitaries from Guatemala, Peru, Romania, China, Venezuela and Canada were welcomed by a huge parade featuring “King and Queen Petroleum,” floats, a carnival and a large reception at Tulsa Country Club.
In 1928, the event moved to the Tulsa Fairgrounds; in 1930, its date changed to May to avoid conflict with the Tulsa State Fair. Over the years, the IPE grew by leaps and bounds, bringing up to 300,000 attendees in 1948. In 1966, all exhibition buildings were demolished and the event moved into its own building, thanks to a $3.5 million bond issue. Sprawling 10 acres, the IPE Center — now known as the River Spirit Expo — was the largest of its kind in the country at the time.
After 1971, oil industry markets moved offshore, and oil prices dropped. Declining attendance in the ’70s saw the end of Tulsa’s largest and longest-running trade show. Its only visual reminders today are the Golden Driller statue, which debuted at the 1953 IPE, and the event’s first permanent building.