International Specialised Expo

01/05/1982 - 31/10/1982

Energy turns the World

Official Designation
The Knoxville International Energy Exposition – Energy Expo 82

Area (ha)




The 1982 International Energy Exposition was a Specialised Expo held in Knoxville, Tennessee, which was recognised by the 81st General Assembly of the BIE on 27 April 1977. Organised under the theme ‘Energy Turns the World’, the Expo took place in the World’s Fair Park between 1 May and 31 October.

Knoxville, one of the United States’ major energy centres, chose an energy theme as it is home to both the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Oakridge National Laboratory, one of the world’s leading nuclear research sites. The Expo site was also located close to the Museum of Science and Energy as well as the Smoky Mountain National Park, one of the most highly visited in the United States.

The Site

The site spanned 29 hectares, with the 81-metre high Sunsphere being the most prominent structure. The five-storey tower was designed to symbolise the sun, pointing to its status as a source of energy and life. The sphere was coated with 24-carat gold dust, and visitors could take a lift to the top where they could enjoy the views from the observation deck or dine in its restaurant.

The site also included the Folk Life centre, a popular attraction that included creative workshops and craftsmen and showcased the latest technological developments, including walking and talking robots.

As for entertainment at the Expo, the Elm Tree Theatre, which offered live music and dance performances, was very popular with visitors, with performances by artists such as Bob Hope, Johnny Cash and the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. Parades and fireworks displays were organised every day, as well as football and basketball games to entertain visitors, who could also enjoy scenic barge trips on the Tennessee River.

International Participants

The European Economic Community made its first Expo appearance at Expo 1982 Knoxville, with its 10 members at the time – Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, United Kingdom and West Germany – being represented in a single pavilion.

A total of 16 international participants had pavilions at the Expo. The six-story pavilion of the host country recounted the history of energy production and use in the United States. The pavilion was partly powered by solar panels on its roof, and inside, visitors could enjoy the displays via technological marvels including an interactive touchscreen system and an IMAX theatre. In the Saudi Arabian pavilion, giant solar collectors demonstrated the country’s role as an energy producer, while the Italian pavilion featured model energy generators and highlighted the contribution of Italian scientists in the past century.

Participating countries also showcased their culture and innovation. The Egyptian pavilion brought a historical learning opportunity to the Expo with its collection of 3,000-year-old chariots and sculptures, as well as treasures found in the tombs of Pharaohs, while the Hungarian pavilion displayed a huge revolving Rubik’s cube, invented by Hungarian sculptor Ernö Rubik.


Expo 1982 drew over 11 million visitors. The Sunsphere Tower, a symbol of Knoxville, partially reopened to visitors in 2007. World’s Fair Park continues to occupy most of the Expo site, hosting several cultural and recreational facilities. These include the Knoxville Museum of Art on the site of the former Japanese pavilion, and the Tennessee Amphitheatre, which was built for the Expo and continues to serve as a concert venue.