Fifty years ago yesterday, the World’s Fairopened in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, N.Y.The event was a watershed moment for 1960s America, which was still putting the assassination of President Kennedy in the past. Though the Vietnam War and resulting social upheaval were only just getting underway, the fair exhibited the nation’s postwar optimism of a bright, technological future.
Spanning two six-month seasons from April 1964 to October 1965, the fair was full of space-age futurism, newfangled technologies, and more than its share of controversy.
In honour of the anniversary, we’ve collected photos from the fair.
The 1964-1965 fair was the third major World’s Fair to be held in New York City. The theme of the ’64 fair was Peace Through Understanding and was symbolized by a 12-story stainless-steel model of the Earth called the Unisphere. It was built by U.S. Steel.
Admission to the fair was $US2 for adults (those 13 and older), equivalent to about $US15 in today’s dollars. Les Poupées de Paris was a wildly popular puppet show at the fair. After a review complained about the risqué nature of the show, tickets sold out for weeks.
By the time the fair closed in 1965, 51 million people had attended the exposition. It was well below the projected attendance of 71 million. The New York State Pavilion, designed by Philip Johnson, was a key attraction. Pictured here are the flying-saucer-like observation towers, designed to evoke the Space Age.
The fair was the only World’s Fair not to be sanctioned by the International Exhibitions Bureau (BIE). Despite the fact that New York had hosted the World’s Fair 25 years earlier, a group of New York businessmen led by master urban planner Robert Moses spearheaded the effort for a new fair in the hopes that it would create an economic boom in the city.
Moses attempted to gain the approval of the BIE in Paris but was rebuffed because of a number of unorthodox requests that he determined were necessary to make the fair profitable. Moses wanted to charge nations rent for exhibiting at the fair, and wanted the fair to run for two six-month seasons, despite BIE stipulations that only one season was allowed.
After Moses blasted the BIE in the French press, the agency asked that member nations not participate in the New York fair. As a result, many major countries, such as England and France, opted out. Smaller countries took advantage with large exhibits.
This recreation of a Belgian village became one of the highlights after fairgoers went crazy over a couple selling Belgian waffles.
The Swiss Sky Ride gave riders panoramic views of the fairgrounds and Manhattan. In the foreground, from left, are the pavilions of the United Arab Republic (a short-lived union between Egypt and Syria), Lebanon, and China. In the background are the anthill-shaped pavilion of Jordan and the multi-arched Moroccan pavilion on the right.
Corporations ended up hosting some of the largest and most elaborate exhibits. At the Futurama II exhibit by General Motors, visitors took a ride into the future on individual seats on a track, accompanied by narration. The GM ride included numerous scenes of the near future including a weather station underneath the Antarctic ice shelf where technicians live and predict the weather.
Other scenes included a laser-assisted demolition of a jungle to create a superhighway, and a trip to the moon with lunar crawlers and commuter space ships, shown here.
The city-of-the-future scene shows airports in Midtown, high-speed bus trains, moving sidewalks, and “super-skyscrapers.”
The General Motors pavilion was massive. In addition to the Futurama ride, the pavilion included exhibitions that showed the variety of research conducted by GM, including home appliances and this experimental car.
Chrysler attempted to compete by unveiling what at the time was groundbreaking technology — a turbine-powered car. The Chrysler Turbine Car was called the “jet car” because the engine was similar to one used in a jet. Other parts of the Chrysler exhibition included a massive turbine engine that fairgoers could walk through and a simulated assembly line.
Forty years before the advent of Skype, AT&T’s Bell Labs premiered the Picturephone at the fair. Attendees were invited to video-chat with a caller in a special exhibit at Disneyland in California. The product never ended up catching on because of the high price tag and small size of the picture.
Nuclear energy was still a crowning achievement of the U.S. at the time. The Atomic Energy Commission’s Atomsville, U.S.A., exhibit touted the benefits of nuclear-produced electricity. As the children pedal the bicycles, lights on the panel in front are activated by a generator. The exhibit indicated how long they would have to pedal to equal the energy in 1 pound of uranium fuel: 30 years of nonstop pedaling.
The U.S. pavilion was designed with the theme Challenge to Greatness to show what a “free people can compete in a free society.” Exhibits included “The Voyage to America,” a film tribute to immigrants’ journeys to America, “The Great Society,” showing U.S. advances in science, the arts, and world peace, and “American Journey,” a moving grandstand showing 472 years of American history.
The Fair closed on October 21st, 1965. It was considered a failure, after it failed to meet attendance projections or repay its financial backers their investment. Most of the Fair was completely demolished within six months, and the remaining pavilions have slowly succumbed to neglect. Here, the Fair is lit up at night.
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