New York World's Fair was the second World's Fair to be held
at Flushing Meadows Park in the Borough of Queens, New York in
the 20th century. It opened on April 21, 1964 for two six-month
seasons concluding on October 21, 1965.
an aerial view of the Fair looking west - presented courtesy
John Pender collection
It was the largest
World's Fair ever to be held in the United States occupying nearly
a square mile of land. Truly a "Universal and International"
class exposition, it was not sanctioned by the Bureau of International
Expositions (BIE) and is often overlooked by historians because
it was not an "official" World's Fair. This lack of
BIE endorsement meant that many large European nations including
Great Britain, France and Germany, as well as Canada and Australia,
chose not to participate in the Fair. Most international exhibits
were sponsored by tourism and industrial concerns and not officially
sanctioned by their governments.
to this exposition than international participation was extensive
involvement of United States corporations as exhibitors. American
industry spent millions of dollars to create elaborate, crowd-pleasing
exhibits. Critics of the Fair charged that the heavy influence
of industry created an overly commercial atmosphere.
The Fair's theme
was "Peace Through Understanding," dedicated to "Man's
Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe"
and was often referred to as an "Olympics of Progress."
The theme center was a 12-story high, stainless-steel model of
the earth called Unisphere with the orbit tracks of three satellites
encircling the giant globe.
By the time the
gates closed more than 51 million people had attended the exposition;
a respectable attendance for a World's Fair but some 20% below
the projected attendance of 70 million. The exposition ended
with huge financial losses and amid allegations of gross mismanagement.
Today the 1964/1965
New York World's Fair is remembered as a cultural highlight of
mid-twentieth century America. It represents an era best known
as "The Space Age" when mankind took its first steps
toward space exploration and it seemed that technology would
provide the answers to all of the world's problems. The exhibits
at the Fair echoed a blind sense of optimism in the future that
was prevalent in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Its architecture
can be described as "Populux" or "Googie" where
flying saucer shapes, vast cantilevers and towering forms make
up the majority of pavilion design.
The Fair was
conceived by a group of New York businessmen who fondly remembered
their childhood experiences at the 1939/1940 New York World's
Fair and wanted to provide that same experience for their children
and grandchildren. Thoughts of an economic boom to the city as
the result of increased tourism was also a major reason for holding
another fair a scant 25 years after the 1939/1940 extravaganza.
The Fair looking north toward
LaGuardia Airport and Shea Stadium
in the United States are not government financed. Organizers
must turn to private financing and the sale of bonds to pay the
huge costs to stage them. The organizers turned to New York's
"Master Builder," Robert Moses, to head the corporation
established to run the Fair because he was experienced in raising
money for vast projects. Moses had been a formidable figure in
the city since coming to power in the 1930s. He was responsible
for the construction of much of the city's highway infrastructure
and, as Parks Commissioner for decades, the creation of much
of the city's park system.
In the mid-1930s
he oversaw the conversion of a vast Queens garbage dump into
the glittering fairgrounds that hosted the 1939/1940 World's
Fair. Called Flushing Meadows Park, it was Moses' grandest park
scheme. He envisioned this vast park, comprising some 1300 acres
of land and located in the geographical center of the city, as
a major recreational playground for New Yorkers. When the 1939/1940
World's Fair ended in financial failure, Moses did not have the
available funds to complete work on his project. He saw the 1964/1965
Fair as just the vehicle he needed to complete Flushing Meadows Park.
that in order to ensure profits for the Park, the Fair Corporation
would have to maximize receipts from the Fair. The Fair would
need an attendance of 70 million people in order to turn a profit.
This lead to the first of two decisions which would cause the
Fair to come to blows with the Bureau of International Expositions,
the international body headquartered in Paris that sanctions
World's Fairs. The Corporation determined that attendance that
large would mean the Fair would have to run for two years. BIE
rules state that an exposition may only run for one, six-month
period. Secondly, the Corporation decided to charge rent to exhibitors.
This was also a direct violation of BIE rules which state that
no host may charge exhibitors rentals. In addition, Montreal,
Canada, had been selected to host the Universal and International
Exposition of 1967 (Expo67) and BIE rules stated that only one
Universal exposition may be held within a 10-year time span.
Moses was undaunted
by the BIE's rules when he journeyed to Paris to seek official
approval for the New York Fair. When the BIE balked at New York's
application, Moses, used to having his way in New York, angered
the members of the BIE by taking his case to the press publicly
stating his disdain for their organization and their rules. The
BIE retaliated by taking the action of formally requesting their
member nations not to participate in the New York Fair. The 1964/1965
New York World's Fair became the only significant World's Fair
in history to be held without BIE endorsement.
exhibits were absent from the Fair due to the BIE decision. New
York in the middle of the twentieth century was at a zenith of
economic power and world prestige. Unconcerned by BIE rules,
smaller nations saw it as an honor to host an exhibit at this
Fair in the world's most prestigious city. Therefore most international
representation came from smaller nations and so called third-world
countries. The absence of Canada, Australia, major European nations
and the Soviet Union tarnished the image of the Fair. In
the end, only Spain and Vatican City hosted a major national
presence at the Fair. Other international participants included
Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Thailand, Philippines,
Greece and Pakistan, to name a few.
The Fair looking east with
Unisphere near the center of the photograph
One of the Fair's
most popular exhibits was the Vatican pavilion where Michelangelo's
sculpture Pieta was displayed. A recreation of a medieval Belgian
Village proved to be very popular also. There, Fairgoers were
treated to a new taste sensation in the form of the "Belgian
Waffle" -- a combination of waffle, strawberries and whipped
cream. Elsewhere, emerging African nations displayed their wares
in the Africa Pavilion. Controversy broke out when the Jordanian
pavilion displayed a mural emphasizing the plight of the Palestinian
people. The city of Berlin, a Cold War hotspot, hosted a popular
Industry Takes the Spotlight
At the 1939/1940
World's Fair, industrial exhibitors played a major role by hosting
huge, elaborate exhibits. Many of them returned to the 1964/1965
Fair with even more elaborate versions of the shows they presented
25 years earlier. The most notable of these was General Motors
whose Futurama, a show in which visitors seated in 3-abreast
moving armchairs glided past detailed miniature dioramas showing
what life might be like in the "near-future," proved
to be the Fair's most popular exhibit. Nearly 26 million people
took the journey into the future during the Fair's two-year run.
The Fair looking west with
the Industrial Area in the foreground
exhibits included that of the IBM Corporation where a giant 500-seat
grandstand was pushed by hydraulic rams high up into an ovoid-shaped
rooftop theater. There, a 9-screen film showed the workings of
computer logic. The Bell System hosted a 15-minute ride in moving
armchairs depicting the history of communications in dioramas
and film. DuPont presented a musical review by composer Michael
Brown called "The Wonderful World of Chemistry." At
Parker Pen, a computer would make a match to a world-wide pen-pal.
hit of the Fair was a non-commercial movie short presented by
the S.C. Johnson Company (Johnson Wax) called "To be alive!"
The film celebrated the joy of life found worldwide and in all
cultures. The movie went on to win an Academy Award in 1966.
The Fair is remembered
as the vehicle Walt Disney used to design and perfect the system
of "audio-animatronics" where a combination of sound
and computers control the movement of life-like robots to act
out scenes. Disney was responsible for the creation of four shows
at the Fair. In the "It's a Small World" attraction
at the Pepsi-Cola pavilion, animated dolls and animals frolicked
in a spirit of international unity on a boat-ride around the
world. General Electric sponsored "Carousel of Progress"
where an audience seated in a revolving auditorium saw an audio-animatronics
presentation of the progress of electricity in the home. Ford
Motor Company presented Disney's "The Magic Skyway"
featuring life-sized audio-animatronic dinosaurs and cavemen.
And at the Illinois pavilion, a life-like Abraham Lincoln recited
his famous speeches in "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln."
Disney relocated many of these these exhibits to Disneyland following
the Fair (and subsequently to other Disney Theme Parks) where
they continued to delight audiences for years.
and States Exhibits
The Federal Government's
exhibit was titled "Challenge to Greatness" and focused
on President Johnson's "Great Society" proposals. The
main show in the multi-million dollar pavilion was a 15-minute
ride through a filmed presentation of American history. Visitors
seated in moving grandstands rode past movie screens that slid
in, out and over the path of the traveling audience. Elsewhere,
tribute was paid to recently assassinated president John F. Kennedy
who had broken ground for the pavilion back in December, 1962.
New York state
played host to the Fair at it's six-million dollar open-air pavilion
called the "Tent of Tomorrow." Designed by famed modernist
architect Philip Johnson, the pavilion also boasted the Fair's
high spot observation towers.
the "World's Largest Cheese." Florida brought a Porpoise
show and Water Skiers to New York. Oklahoma gave weary Fairgoers
a restful park to relax in. Missouri displayed their state's
space related industries. At the New York City pavilion, a huge
scale model of the City of New York was on display complete with
a simulated helicopter ride for easy viewing. Visitors could
dine at Hawaii's "Five Volcanoes" restaurant.
The Fair came
to a close embroiled in controversy over allegations of financial
mismanagement. Controversy had plagued it during much of its
two-year run mainly due to Robert Moses' inability to get along
with the press. As a result the press seemed unduly harsh on
the Fair, criticizing everything from a perceived lack of fine
arts displays to the price of admission to charges that the Fair
smacked of crass commercialism. It was no secret that the attendance
had been disappointing. Only 24 million people attended the Fair
by the close of the 1964 season. Whether the attitude of the
press played a part in poor attendance or whether the apathy
of New Yorkers toward the Fair gave the press an additional excuse
to attack it is open to debate. But it was a gross accounting
error brought to light at the close of the 1964 season that gave
the press their most destructive ammunition.
The Fair looking east over
the Amusement Area
The Fair Corporation
had taken in millions of dollars in advance ticket sales for
both the 1964 and 1965 season. The receipts of these sales were
booked entirely against the first season of the Fair. This made
it appear that the Fair had plenty of operating cash up to and
including the first season when, in fact, they were inadvertently
borrowing from the second season's gate to pay the bills. Before
and during the 1964 season, the Fair spent lavishly despite attendance
that was considerably below expectations, simply because there
was so much money in the coffers. By the end of the 1964 season
Moses, and the press, began to realize that there would not be
enough money to pay the bills and the Fair teetered on bankruptcy.
There would be millions of people attending in 1965 who had tickets
to enter but whose receipts had already been spent. The press,
and soon the city of New York, began to demand accountability
for what they considered gross mismanagement of the Fair.
The Fair was
eventually able to limp through the second season without having
to declare bankruptcy because of emergency monies provided by
the city, an increase in ticket prices and a surge in attendance
as the Fair drew to a close. However, the financial crisis further
tarnished the image of the Fair and of Robert Moses who was seen
to be taking personal advantage of the Fair after the escrow
account guaranteeing his one million dollar salary was discovered
and made known to the public by the New York press.
Like its predecessor,
the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair lost money. It was unable
to repay its financial backers their investment and it became
embroiled in legal disputes with its creditors until 1970, when
the books were finally closed. Most of the Fair was completely
demolished within six months following the Fair's close. Only
a handful of pavilions survived, some of them traveling great
distances following the Fair: The Austria pavilion became a ski
lodge in western New York; the Wisconsin pavilion a radio station
in Neillsville, Wisconsin; the US Royal Tire-shaped Ferris Wheel
a road sign along a Detroit, Michigan Interstate highway; the
Pavilion of Spain relocated to St. Louis and now a part of a
hotel; the Parker Pen pavilion became offices for the Lodge
of Four Seasons in Lake-of-the-Ozarks, Missouri, the Johnson
Wax disc-shaped theater was reworked and became a part of the S.C. Johnson
office complex in Racine, Wisconsin; the Christian Science pavilion
a church in Poway, California.
New York City
was left with a much improved Flushing Meadows Park following
the Fair, taking possession of the Park from the Fair Corporation
in June, 1967. At the center of the park stands the symbol of
"Man's Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding
Universe" - the Fair's Unisphere symbol, depicting our earth
of The Space Age. The city also received a multi-million dollar
Science Museum and Space Park exhibiting the rockets and vehicles
used in America's early space exploration projects. Both the
New York state pavilion and the Federal pavilion were retained
for future use. No reuse was ever found for the Federal pavilion
and it was demolished in 1977. The New York state pavilion also
found no residual use and continues to deteriorate in the Park.
The Space Park deteriorated due to neglect and was eventually
removed from the Park. The Fair's Heliport has found reuse as
a banquet/catering facility called "Terrace on the Park."
In the late 1970s,
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, as it is now called, became the
home of the US Tennis Association and the US Open tennis tournament
is played there annually. The former New York City building is
home to the Queens Museum of Art and continues to display the
multi-million dollar of the model of the city of New York.
The Fair is a
distant memory for most who were visitors. Those who were children
at the time of the Fair are in retirement today. After years
of neglect, the Fair's legacy structures at Flushing Meadows-Corona
Park are being refurbished. New York, in recent years, has begun
to realize how important that Fair was to our country's and their
city's history and how much it represented an era to millions
of Americans. It was a time when the possibilities of the future
looked so bright and its possibilities seemed to be just around
This essay was originally written by this author for www.wikipedia.org.