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World’s Fairs; Facts, Memories, and Tidbits

Updated on February 13, 2020
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The New York World's Fair 1964-65.The Trylon and Perisphere.  The symbols of the New York 1939 World's Fair.The Westinghouse Exhibit, which featured time capsules.The 1964-65 World's Fair's observatory towers, 2006.  According to the movie "Men in Black" there were space ships.The Kodak Pavilion,The Alaska PavilionA souvenir of the 1964-65 NY World's Fair, a plastic replica of Michelangelo's Pieta. The Parachute Jump, a ride at the NY 1930 World's Fair at Coney Island, NY, circa 1980.
The New York World's Fair 1964-65.
The New York World's Fair 1964-65. | Source
The Trylon and Perisphere.  The symbols of the New York 1939 World's Fair.
The Trylon and Perisphere. The symbols of the New York 1939 World's Fair. | Source
The Westinghouse Exhibit, which featured time capsules.
The Westinghouse Exhibit, which featured time capsules. | Source
The 1964-65 World's Fair's observatory towers, 2006.  According to the movie "Men in Black" there were space ships.
The 1964-65 World's Fair's observatory towers, 2006. According to the movie "Men in Black" there were space ships. | Source
The Kodak Pavilion,
The Kodak Pavilion, | Source
The Alaska Pavilion
The Alaska Pavilion | Source
A souvenir of the 1964-65 NY World's Fair, a plastic replica of Michelangelo's Pieta.
A souvenir of the 1964-65 NY World's Fair, a plastic replica of Michelangelo's Pieta. | Source
The Parachute Jump, a ride at the NY 1930 World's Fair at Coney Island, NY, circa 1980.
The Parachute Jump, a ride at the NY 1930 World's Fair at Coney Island, NY, circa 1980. | Source

Overview

The New York World’s Fair opened in New York in 1964. To young New Yorkers this was a wonderous place. To older New Yorkers it wasn’t as good as the 1939 World’s Fair. The New York 1964 World’s Fair was not sanctioned by the Bureau of International Expositions.

This article will give some passing mentions to a few other World’s Fairs, World Expos as they are referred to outside of the United States. It will also mention some other related events.

Historical Perspective

In the 1930s there were 39 World Expos. There were 11 Expos in the 1940s and 16 in the 1950s. In the 1960s there were 6 World Expos. Venezuela planned an Expo in 1960 but it was cancelled. Seattle Washington hosted an Expo in 1962. Seattle built the Space Needle for the Expo. The Space Needle defines the Seattle skyline.

The 1939 World’s Fair had as its symbol the Trylon and Perisphere. The Perispher was a sphere 180 feet (55m) in diameter. The Trylon was a 610-foot (190 m) tall spire. The exhibits included “The World of Tomorrow” and “Futurama”. The only fair that cost more money was the St. Louis 1904 World’s Fair. The fair was originally supposed to last 5 years. In 1939 and 40 some countries became occupied by the Axis or were absorbed by the Soviet Union. In 1940 to try to generate more revenue the New York World’s Fair Corporation put more emphasis on amusement instead of education. Many of the amusement shows weren’t family entertainment. The New York Vice Squad raided shows a few times. The 45 million visitors generated on average a little over $1 each in revenue. The Fair ended in 1940 and was a financial failure.

The New York 1964-65 World’s Fair

Prior to the New York Fair’s opening on April 22, 1964 there were announced plans for a civil rights protest. The plans were for participants to drive to the tunnels leading to Queens, where the Fair was located, and run out of gas at the tunnels’ approach. The result would be a major traffic jam. On opening day there were a couple of cars that did this, but not the 500 protest organizers called for. The stopped cars didn’t cause a major traffic disruption.

The 1964 New York State license plates read “NY World’s Fair 64”. One man as a protest manipulated his plate to read “No Fair”. His complaint was they were using his car as advertisement.

One boy ran away from home and intended to spend the whole season at the World’s Fair. He was found and returned safely to his parents.

The symbol of the World’s Fair was the Unisphere. It was a stainless-steel globe set in a large fountain. It was impressive and seemed to have more personality than the Trylon and Perisphere. The Unisphere was the setting for the climax in the Science Fiction comedy, “Men in Black”.

Probably the best-known artifact brought to the World’s Fair was Michelangelo’s Pieta. Visitors were taken past the Pieta on a moving walkway. Photography was prohibited.

The General Motors Exhibit, named Futurama II, had visitors travel in chairs that took them past a series of dioramas that depicted exploration in the near future. These dioramas depicted exploration and mining on the moon, the ocean floor, and Antarctica. It showed road building through jungles and across continents. It showed how cities of the future might look. Much of what was depicted is still in the realm of Science Fiction, but much is a reality today.

The Ford exhibit was also popular. Visitors sat in a new Ford Galaxy 500 convertible and the ride took them through galleries of animatronic dinosaurs. The first gallery had a Brontosaurus eating vegetation. Another gallery depicted a Stegosaurus fighting a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Today we know these depictions were erroneous. The last galleries showed cavemen hunting Mammoths and making cave drawings.

Sinclair Oil also used animatronic dinosaurs in its exhibit. The Sinclair exhibit was outdoors. The exhibit also included a machine where visitors could buy a plastic dinosaur. The machine would mold the dinosaur. In 1964 there were many Sinclair gas stations in New York City. Within a decade they were gone.

The General Electric exhibit had an auditorium with a revolving stage. The setting was a living room. A family through different eras told about the modern conveniences, for the time. It started from circa 1890 to present day, 1964. Another part of the exhibit talked about and gave a demonstration of thermonuclear fusion. This included a flash and a loud boom.

Among the state exhibits was Alaska. Part of the exhibit had live animals from Alaska. There was a small entrance fee for this exhibit. The animals seemed worn down by the summer heat.

This World’s Fair was an even bigger financial disaster than the 1939 World’s Fair.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Sunsphere at the Knoxville World's Fair, August 1982.The Tower of the Americas and the Institute of Texas Cultures, San Antonio 1978.The Institute of Texas Cultures, San Antonio, 1978.View from The Tower o the Americas, circa 1980.The STS ENTERPRISE, at the Udvar-Hazy Center, VA, circa 2005.  The ENTERPRISE was on exhibit at the New Orleans World's Fair.
Sunsphere at the Knoxville World's Fair, August 1982.
Sunsphere at the Knoxville World's Fair, August 1982. | Source
The Tower of the Americas and the Institute of Texas Cultures, San Antonio 1978.
The Tower of the Americas and the Institute of Texas Cultures, San Antonio 1978. | Source
The Institute of Texas Cultures, San Antonio, 1978.
The Institute of Texas Cultures, San Antonio, 1978. | Source
View from The Tower o the Americas, circa 1980.
View from The Tower o the Americas, circa 1980. | Source
The STS ENTERPRISE, at the Udvar-Hazy Center, VA, circa 2005.  The ENTERPRISE was on exhibit at the New Orleans World's Fair.
The STS ENTERPRISE, at the Udvar-Hazy Center, VA, circa 2005. The ENTERPRISE was on exhibit at the New Orleans World's Fair. | Source

Subsequent World’s Fairs

Expo 67 took place in Montreal, Quebec. In this fair The Soviet Union highlighted its space program. In 1967 The Soviet Union appeared to be winning the space race. The United States highlighted its entertainment industry. After the Expo Montreal turned the grounds into an amusement park. The park had water shows. It was a great place to spend an evening in 1980.

In 1968 San Antonio hosted a World’s Fair named HemisFair ’68. The Fair’s theme was “The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas.” This fair cost $156 million and lost $7.5 million. The theme structure, Tower of the Americas, has a revolving restaurant and an observation floor. A nearby building, that has a mural that expressed the Fair’s theme, is a museum. The area is the venue for the annual “Texas Folk Life Festival.”

In 1982 there was a World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. Morale seemed high in Knoxville. The symbol for that fair was the Sunsphere. The theme was energy. In 1982 the concern was the world was going to run out of fossil fuels. Hungary, the home of Erno Rubik who invented the Rubik’s Cube, highlighted this invention with a large automated Rubik’s Cube. The Knoxville Fair was a financial failure. “The Simpsons” made fun at the Fair’s expense in the episode “Bart on the Road”.

Despite the financial failure of the Knoxville Fair, New Orleans was optimistic for its World’s Fair in 1984. The city felt being a more famous and interesting venue than Knoxville would attract more visitors. Among the items in exhibit was the Space Shuttle Enterprise. It was the only World’s Fair to have a mascot, Seymore D. Fair, a white pelican. The New Orleans fair was a financial catastrophe. The Fair declared bankruptcy during its run. On its last day, November 11, 1984, it had free admission. The was the last World’s Fair held in the United States.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Robert Sacchi

Comments

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    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      5 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Large events seem a big risk. It might be a long time before enough people deem going to large events worth the risk.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      5 months ago from Houston, Texas

      I will bet it is some time before large events like this will be scheduled. Even the Olympics have been cancelled for this year! Nice to be able to look back, however.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 months ago

      Good point.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Sometimes the money is made in later years because of initial improvements to a city in preparation for worlds fair. The same can be said for the Olympics. Much of the improved infrastructure stays in place after the games have ended.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. You make a good point. I remember reading an article about the Concorde. The article pointed out many projects, such as the Pyramids, didn't make money at the time.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 months ago from Houston, Texas

      It is too bad that most of the world fairs were financial disasters for the cities hosting them. In the case of San Antonio, something good came of it in addition to the Tower of America, and the building now turned museum. The Riverwalk was expanded and became much safer for tourists. So that at least is an excellent lasting legacy.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      9 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. The conclusion might be these are not money making propositions. Then again that was a common belief about hosting Olympiads until Peter Ueberroth proved they could be profitable in the 1984 LA Olympics.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      9 months ago from USA

      I have often wondered why we no longer have these. I guess the bigger question is why they couldn’t use past failures and integrative that into their learning. This was a fascinating read.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      9 months ago

      Yes, definitely.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 

      9 months ago

      Financial failures, yet they leave enduring legacies.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      9 months ago

      Thank you both for reading and commenting.

      Pamela Oglesby - I remember reading an article where someone pointed out the Pyramids and many other structures didn't turn an immediate profit but have been enduring tourist attractions. I wonder if anyone did any calculations for the leftover structures of World's Fairs past.

      Liz Westwood - Yes, if you ever get a chance to visit one by all means do so. It gives much to talk and write about. Tourism tends to be a hit or miss proposition.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 months ago from Sunny Florida

      You sure don't put on a world fair to make money. I have never been to a world fair, but I did find your article very interesting. There were several things I did not know. Thanks for sharing this information.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      9 months ago from UK

      It's sad that these no longer happen. They look and sound amazing. Sadly these kind of events go for a while and then finance is a big issue.

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