1964 was a period in American history where the hope for the future still burned bright from the previous decade. Technology and industry were making great leaps, especially in the area of space exploration, and the city of New York recognized that the time was ripe for an encore to the 1939 World’s Fair. The planning was placed in the able hands of Robert Moses, a man who had already given the city so much in the way of public parks, and his vision would make the 1964 World’s Fair perhaps one of the best-remembered in the history of the event. Today, we thought we would travel back to this magical moment in time and take a trip to the 1964 World’s Fair.
Perhaps surprisingly, this was not an officially sanctioned event, for it would seems that the international body that oversees the World’s Fair refused to give its permission for a number of reasons. First of all, another World’s Fair had been held too recently in the United States, violating their long-standing rules. Secondly, the fair would need to charge admission and be held over two six-month seasons, both of which were also not allowed. Undeterred, the city went forth anyway, despite the fact that the regulating body would ask many of the major nations to not participate. As a result, the Fair mainly focused on American industry, with only a handful of smaller nations participating.
Located on the grounds where the 1939 World’s Fair had been held, in Flushing, NY, the event was billed as the first billion-dollar fair and attendance expectations were high. But it would take many months for this fair to catch the attention of the masses and the numbers were pretty disappointing in the first year. The fair would eventually go on to make over 50 million dollars, but only thanks to a surge in popularity in its final few weeks.
But despite the financial hardships and lack of sanctioning, this was a Fair that left its visitors in awe. The biggest corporations of the day spared no expense in their exhibits, such as the ultra-popular Futurama exhibit, hosted by General Motors. Here, visitors could catch a glimpse of what the future might look like as they traveled in moving chairs through the large exhibit. Bell Systems also utilized similar single-passenger vehicles to transport guests through a series of dioramas that depicted the innovations in the communications area, including such futuristic devices as speaker phones, touchtone phones, and the most amazing of them all, the video phone.
Here is some wonderful footage of the Futurama exhibit:
A few of the companies would ever utilize the talents of a man who knew how to please the crowds, Walt Disney. He would design “It’s a Small World” for Pepsi – a boat ride familiar to anyone who has ever visited a Disney theme park. He would also introduce a new technology he had been working on called audio-animatronics, allowing both human and beast to move in life-like fashion. He would put dinosaurs in the Ford exhibit and Mr. Lincoln reciting his Gettysburg Address for an exhibit sponsored by the state of Illinois. Finally, for General Electric, he used his audio-animatronics in a revolving theater to tell the story of electrical innovations past, present and future in the “Carousel of Progress.” Upon the fair’s completion, all of these exhibits would be moved to their new home in Disneyland, where many can still be seen.
Two other items that seems to be most fondly remembered from the World’s Fair are the Vatican’s display of Michelangelo’s Pieta and the Belgium waffles that were offered in the Belgian Village. While these confections are now commonplace in just about every restaurant that serves breakfast, they apparently have never tasted as good as they did at the World’s Fair, at least according to what those that tasted them continue to insist.
Today, little remains of the World’s Fair. A public park, a few buildings and some ghostly remnants are all that are left. The iconic Unisphere globe still sits in the center, a reminder to the fair’s theme (“Man’s achievement on a shrinking globe in an expanding universe”) and the rusted observation towers loom overhead, over 40 years after they carried their last passengers. But the memories of the 1964 World’s Fair remain strong in the minds of everyone who had an opportunity to visit, to explore, and to dream of what the future might hold. And as far as what the future holds concerning another New York World’s Fair, there is currently a movement under way to make a bid for the 2020 World’s Fair. With a little luck, perhaps there will finally be a reason to polish up the Unisphere after all these years.
Were you one of those youngsters lucky enough to visit this iconic event? Or, perhaps you heard stories passed on from friends or relatives that attended. We would love to hear your recollections of the 1964 World’s Fair in our comments section, as we fondly remember a time in our history when the future seemed so promising, so limitless.