1939 New York World's Fair

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Aerial photograph of the Trylon and Perisphere

The 1939 New York World's Fair, located where Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is now (and where the 1964 New York World's Fair was held), was one of the largest world's fairs of all time. Many different countries around the world participated in it, and over 25 million people attended its exhibits. The NYWF of 1939 allowed all visitors to take a look at "The world of tomorrow."

In 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, a group of New York City businessmen decided to create an international exposition to lift the city and the country out of depression. Not long after, these men formed the New York World's Fair Corporation, whose office was placed on one of the higher floors in the Empire State Building. The NYWFC elected Grover Whalen as the president of their committee. The whole committee consisted of Winthrop Aldrich, Mortimer Buckner, Floyd Carlisle, John J. Dunnigan, Harvey Dow Gibson, Fiorello La Guardia, Percy S. Straus, and many other business leaders.

Over the next four years, the committee planned, built, and organized the fair and its exhibits. Countries around the world took part in creating the biggest international event since World War I. Finally, on April 30, 1939, the fair had its grand opening, with 200,000 people in attendance.

One of the most famous exhibits was a time capsule, which was not to be opened till 6939 A.D. The time capsule was a tube containing writings by Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann, copies of Life Magazine, a kewpie doll, a dollar in change, a pack of Camel cigarettes, millions of pages of text on microfilm, and much, much more.

Other exhibits included the Chrysler Air-flow, a streamlined pencil sharpener, and one of the first televisions. There was also a huge globe/planetarium located near the center of the fair. Bell Labs' Voder, a keyboard-operated speech synthesizer, was demonstrated at the Fair.

The fair was open for two seasons, and was officially closed forever on October 27, 1940. It attracted over 45 million visitors and generated roughly $48 million in revenue. Since the Fair Corporation had invested 67 million dollars (in addition to nearly a hundred million dollars from other sources), it was, in fact, an economic failure, and the corporation declared bankruptcy.

The Fair was themed. It was divided into different "zones" (a Transportation Zone, a Communications Zone, and so forth). The wildly popular but less uplifting Amusements Area was not integrated into the thematic matrix, and was a mere Area rather than a Zone. The zones were distinguished by many subtle cues, including differently colored lighting. The "Theme Center" consisted of two landmark monumental buildings named the Trylon and Perisphere. The design of Disneyland, with its themed Frontierland, Tomorrowland and central Cinderella's Castle clearly owes something to the 1939 World's Fair. The resemblance of Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center to the Fair is even closer, and was widely noted by architectural writers when it opened. Epcot's geodesic-sphere "Spaceship Earth" bears a distinct family resemblance to the Perisphere.

Despite the high-minded educational tone that Grover Whalen attempted to set, the "Amusements Area" was the most popular part of the Fair and included roller coaster, a parachute jump (which was later moved to Coney Island where it still stands), and carnival acts such as a collection of performing midgets. Many of the shows provided spectators with the opportunity of viewing women in revealing costumes: the Frozen Alive Girl, the Dream of Venus Building, and, above all, Billy Rose's Aquacade.

A special subway line, the IND World's Fair Railroad, was built to serve the fair. World's Fair (now Willets Point-Shea Stadium) station on the Flushing Line was rebuilt to handle fair traffic on the Template:IRT and Template:BMT. A Long Island Rail Road station (now Shea Stadium) was built next to the Flushing Line station.

In literature

The 1939 World's Fair made a strong impression on attendees and influenced a generation of Americans. Later generations have attempted in to recapture the impression it made in fictional treatments:

  • World's Fair, by E. L. Doctorow
  • 1939: The Lost World of the Fair by David Gelernter is a sui generis blend of essay and fiction. It is a politically conservative tract which yearns for the days when authorities had authority and Robert Moses knew best.
  • All-Star Squadron, a comic book published by DC Comics from 1981 until 1987 and set during the 1940s, was about a superhero team whose headquarters were in the Trylon and Perisphere.
  • In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, one of the main characters breaking into the abandoned fairgrounds and the Perisphere itself, where he has a significant sexual experience.

Some selections from the official guidebook

G. & C. MERRIAM CORPORATION:—A 20-foot glass column, "The Pillar of Knowledge," dramatizes words, their meanings, and use, and inspires visitors to use big dictionaries lying open nearby.

EX-LAX, INCORPORATED:—In order to demonstrate why the chocolated laxative known as Ex-Lax is the most widely used product of its kind in the world, the company engaged an internationally known designer and artist, Oskar Stonorov, to create a dignified theme.

INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MACHINES CORPORATION:—The Exhibit enables the visitor to see how machine-aids faciliate the efficient operation of business. Swift, unerring accounting machines read the meanings of holes punched in cards and transform them into finished printed reports. A device that automatically computes the scores of test papers [is] among the ingenious devices displayed.

RAY E. DUNLAP:—In various locations throughout the Fair fifteen "Guess Your Weight" scales enable patrons to guess their own weight. The charge is 15 cents, each patron receiving a suitable prize if the operator fails to guess the weight within three pounds.

THEODORE GOLDSTEIN:—Known as "Hum-a-Tune," the concession consists of three separate locations for the display and sale of a metal whistling device. Employing an accompanying musician, Mr. Goldstein gives an entertaining demonstration.

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