The New York World’s Fair in 1964 (via DJ Berson)
The New York’s World’s Fair in 1939 was the second-largest World’s Fair ever. Sporting a “Dawn of the Future” theme, the 1939 fair saw the debut of such technological marvels as air conditioning, color photography, fluorescent lamps, and television.
Layout of the 1939 World’s Fair (via mytravelphotos/Flickr user)
The Westinghouse time capsules (photograph by Doug Coldwell)
As part of the fair’s festivities, the Westinghouse Corporation created a time capsule containing a collection of ordinary artifacts meant to represent life in the early 20th Century — including a collection of various seeds, coins, a series of newspapers and magazines on microfilm, a Mickey Mouse watch, and a Kewpie doll. The items were selected based on whether they could withstand a very long interment — the capsule is scheduled to remain buried underground until the year 6939. Westinghouse assembled another capsule from the 1964 fair, to be opened at the same time. Both capsules are buried near the site of Westinghouse’s pavilion on the original fairgrounds in Queens.
Speaking of those fairgrounds, they became a New York City park complex, today known as Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Many of the 1939 structures are no longer there, however, as they were either demolished or moved to make way for the 1964 fair in the same location. Robert Moses, one of New York’s most influential — for better or worse — civic planners, was behind both fairs and the creation of the fairgrounds themselves; as grand as the 1939 fair was, Moses had grander ideas for the grounds, and welcomed the chance to continue his work in 1964.
Aerial view of the 1964 fair (via armagosa/Flickr user)
Some wandering relics of the 1964 World’s Fair include a giant tire-shaped Ferris wheel and a robot named Elektro. Below the Cold War era 1964 fair was even an underground home, complete with a pipe organ and lights for night and day — and it remains underground today. However, one of the most iconic symbols of the 1964 fair still stands in Flushing Park — the Unisphere, a twelve-story-tall stainless steel globe. During the fair, light displays gave the appearance of sunlight moving over the globe’s surface, and small lights depicted the capitals of every nation on earth — including the location of a Mohawk Indian reservation which was home to many members of the Unisphere’s construction team.
The Unisphere in 1964 (via Wikimedia)
The Unisphere today (photograph by Allison Meier/Atlas Obscura)
Near the Unisphere sits the Queens Museum of Art — housed in the former New York City pavilion, which is one of the only surviving buildings from the 1939 fair. The pavilion lay unused after the 1939 fair, until 1946, when it became the first temporary home for the United Nations. After the UN moved to its permanent home in Manhattan, the building was renovated for the 1964 fair, again hosting the New York City pavilion. The building’s star attraction from the 1964 fair was the New York Panorama — a 9,335 square-foot architectural model of the city of New York, with each and every building represented to scale; the Panorama even includes small model planes that appear to “take off” and “land” from the panorama’s little LaGuardia Airport. The pavilion re-opened as an art museum after the fair, and is now the Queens Museum. The Panorama is still on display, with teams of model makers periodically updating the panorama to reflect the city’s changing landscape.
The panorama in the Queens Museum (photograph by Allison Meier/Atlas Obscura)
Sun rising on the diorama (photograph by Allison Meier/Atlas Obscura)
The Queens Museum also holds another, lesser-known 1939 relic — a relief map of New York City’s water system. Originally constructed for the 1939 fair, the topographic map covers New York’s Hudson River Valley, from the Catskills down to New York City, with lights depicting the path of New York’s extensive municipal water system. However, the map ultimately was too big for its intended room at the 1939 fair, and it was placed into storage for ten years. It went on display once in 1949, then got stored away again until 2006, when the Queens Museum finally brought it home. Elsewhere in the museum are displays of memorabilia from both New York fairs.
World’s Fair relics in the Queens Museum (photograph by Allison Meier/Atlas Obscura)
Water system map (photograph by Chris Devers)
One final 1964 relic ended up on the other side of the country. At the time of the fair, Walt Disney had recently opened his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, and was invited to create three animatronic displays for the World’s Fair. Disney, who’d considered establishing a “Permanent World’s Fair” on one of his parks, readily agreed, and offered four exhibits — including the very first version of his “It’s A Small World” theme park ride, and an animatronic statue of President Lincoln for the Illinois State pavilion. After the fair, Disney briefly considered relocating his park to New York since the exhibits were already there. Instead, Disney World stayed in Florida, and Disney moved “It’s A Small World” and Lincoln to Anaheim, where the Lincoln model is still included in Disneyland’s “Hall of Presidents” exhibit.
Abraham Lincoln animatronic at Disneyland (photograph by Justin Ennis)
Here are some more photographs from the World’s Fair in New York City:
Parade at the 1939 World’s Fair (via New York Public Library)
Trains at the 1964 fair (via Wikimedia)
Statue of George Washington in 1939 (via Penn State Special Collections)
1964 with a view of the fair (photograph by Ted Thompson)
Riding over the World’s Fair in 1964 (via paulsedra/Flickr user)
The Chrysler pavilion (photograph by Doug Coulter)
A dinosaur in 1964 (via Karen Horton)
GM concept car (photograph by Don O’Brien)
Rockets and planes in 1964, some of which are still at the New York Hall of Science (via rhtraveler/Flickr user)
Unisphere aerial view (via Wikimedia)
Mosaic for the New York State Pavilion, which remains abandoned, today (photograph by Wally Gobetz)