World’s Fairs; Facts, Memories, and Tidbits
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.
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.
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