1964 World’s Fair

1964 World's Fair

The year was 1964, a period in American history where hope for the future still burned bright from the previous decade. Technology and industry were making great strides, 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 Big Apple so much by way of public parks and bold urban planning that served to better connect the city to the surrounding communities. His vision and determination would make the 1964 World’s Fair perhaps one of the best-remembered in the history of the event.

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. Second, 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 not to participate. As a result, the Fair mainly focused on American industry, with only a handful of other nations in attendence.

Located on the same grounds where the 1939 World’s Fair were 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 before this fair would catch the attention of the masses, which meant pretty disappointing attendance numbers in the first year. The event 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 realm, including such futuristic devices as speaker phones, touchtone phones, and the most amazing of them all, the video phone.

A few of the companies would ever utilize the imaginitive talents of a man who knew how to please a crowd, 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 proceeded to put dinosaurs in the Ford exhibit and Mr. Lincoln reciting his Gettysburg Address in a show 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 most can still be seen to this day.

Two other items that are 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 serving breakfast, they supposedly have never tasted a fraction as good as they did at the World’s Fair, at least that’s what the tasters 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 regarding 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.

8 Responses to “1964 World’s Fair”

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  1. NostalgiaTV says:

    I was at The NYC World’s Fair in 1964..I enjoyed seeing the exhibits.

    I remember seeing”It’s A Small World After All!”for the first time at the fair,I also saw”It’s A Great Big,Beautiful Tomorow”at “The G.E.Exhibit”and The Bil Baird puppet show at”The Crystal Car”exhibit.

    I remember seeing the many pavillions dedicated to the many aspects of the world and I’ve eaten Belgium waffles with whipp cream and berries.

    I’ve also eaten steak with potatoes and a salad at the French pavillion.

    I wish that I could have seen Soupy Sales..when he did a Personal appearance at the Fair or Sonny Fox or any of the NYC based kids tv hosts/performers.

    But..My parents wouldn’t take me to see them..Damn It!

    I miss The NYC World’s Fair..I doubt that such an event can be revived again.

    NYC is not the same place anymore and to do such a World’s Fair in Flushing,Queens,NYC again would be too costly and too difficult to design,build and maintain for any lengthy duration.

    So..I don’t think that The NYC officials and any major corperations or The US Government will be funding another World’s Fair in “The Big Apple”in 2020 or any time in the future.

  2. Stéphane Dumas says:

    Very good post about the ’64 World Fair. I wasn’t born yet to see it :-(

    There was another world fair to mention who’ll bring back memories, it’s Expo 67 in Montreal in 1967 who was also an opportunity to celebrate Canada’s Centennial that year. I spotted some clips of it

  3. Craig says:

    I was only 8, when our family visited the fair in 1965 and I thought it was fabulous. Here are some highlights as I remember them 45+ years later. Ford had an exhibit where people sat in their cars that were hooked onto conveyers and would move past scenes. I was excited because I got to sit in a new Thunderbird :) GE had an exhibit where people sat in an auditorium that revolved around different presentations about the progress and future related to electricity/appliances/robots. The theme song was something like “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.” Also, on display were the figures that were used in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special that first aired in 1964. I also remember the song “It’s a Small World After All” from one of the exhibits and knowing me, I probably annoyed my parents singing it and the Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow song all the way back to Philadelphia :).

  4. Gina says:

    My Dad got to go. He speaks fondly of it. I was born too late, but I would love to take a time machine and go back and see it. Being a Disney girl, I have gotten to see it’s a small world, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and Carousel of Progress at Disneyland and Disney World. At Universal Studios Florida, the Men In Black Alien Attack recreates some of the landmarks of the fair.

  5. KC says:

    Thanks for this!

    How exciting this event was for a fourteen year old from the Gulf Coast. Perhaps more than anything to date, it opened new worlds to me.

    My mother was from NJ and took me each of the two years while visiting family. I wish I could remember more of the venues others have mentioned but I do have some lovely and quite vivid ones.

    I’ve never been to Disney World, yet to this day the “small world” song pops into my mind bringing with it memories of the little boats carrying us on our world cruise. It’s one of those tunes that won’t let go!

    The Parker Pen company had a booth where kids were invited to fill out a questionnaire which was fed into a computer. A matched pen pal from a foreign country was quickly provided. Computer? Never heard of one of those till that day. Parker Pens? Sure, I was familiar with their quality fountain pens.

    My pen pal was Swedish. Eight years later as newly weds backpacking through Europe we spent several days with her. She had recently moved to Stockholm so we enjoyed many sights together for the first time.

    Michelangelo’s Pieta at the Vatican was very moving. However, when I saw it in St. Peter’s it was stunning and breathtaking. Of course the surroundings were more elegant, but getting closer to it without glass protection also made for a more emotional experience.

    The inviting Belgian waffles made such an impression that I don’t recall any other foods. Surely there must have been a selection of international treats.

    But my relationship with Flushing Meadows doesn’t end with the fair. Like many a teen girl in the sixties I was a die hard Beatles fan. When I casually mentioned to my father that they’d be in concert during our annual NJ visit he offered to contact his company’s NY office where they were sure to have access to tickets.

    People can do that??? My father was close to the bottom rung of the corporate ladder but did have to file regular reports to the home office. So once again this girl from a sleepy southern town ventured to the Big Apple. Considering his efforts on my behalf I could never have told my father I got little enjoyment from the concert due to the screaming fans. Still, I was in awe merely from being in their presence. It was one of the most memorable events of my life. Happily, after forty plus years, I saw a DVD of the show and finally got to hear the music.

    Seriously, for the most part I lived an isolated existence, rarely even going to the movies, for example. Thus, a subsequent visit has ensconced Flushing Meadows even more deeply in my heart. A high school friend introduced me to tennis which eventually developed into a passion.

    Thirty-one years ago, living close enough to drive up for a weekend, I spent Labor Day Saturday at the US Open. In those days grounds passes were cheap and one could wander both the stadiums and outer courts at will, affording an opportunity to see many of the world’s top players. Yanick Noah, Chris Evert and John McEnroe stand out in my mind. Such fun filled days don’t come along often enough.

    Although tis is TMI for many of you (although those people probably quit reading long ago) I couldn’t leave off with the World’s Fair when the location provided the setting for these other special experiences.

  6. Terry says:

    This brings back such wonderful memories for me! I was 9 yrs old when my family went there during the summer of 1965 while visiting my grandmother in Pennsylvania. I’ll never forget the Disney “it’s a small world” exhibit, the Abe Lincoln “Hall of Presidents” exhibit, the Belgian apple fritters & waffles (which to this day have never found any as good as I remember them at the World’s Fair), the monorail, Unisphere, and The Pieta. If anyone has the recipe that was used at the World’s Fair for the Belgian Apple fritters and waffles, it was be awesome if you would post it here!

  7. Jay says:

    Even though I was only 3 years old, I still remember my parents taking me to the fair. My most vivid memory was meeting Soupy Sales at the base of an escalator leading up to some sort of people moving system. Hey, I was only 3, so give me a break if I can’t remember much more than that.

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