As a sequel to the successful 1939 New York World’s Fair, the second World’s Fair opened on April 22, 1964, and its theme was “Peace Through Understanding”. 650 acres (210 ha) of pavilions, public spaces and displays from exhibitors around the world. Countries, cities, corporations, and private groups set up shop to display their ideas. The theme was symbolized by a 12-story-high, stainless-steel model of the earth called the Unisphere, built on the foundation of the Perisphere from the 1939 World’s Fair.
The fair is noted as a showcase of mid-20th-century American culture and technology. The nascent Space Age, with its vista of promise, was well represented. More than 51 million people attended the fair, though fewer than the hoped-for 70 million. It remains a touchstone for many American Baby Boomers who visited the optimistic exposition as children, before the turbulent years of the Vietnam War and many cultural changes.
In many ways the fair symbolized a grand consumer show covering many products produced in America at the time for transportation, living, and consumer electronic needs in a way that would never be repeated at future world’s fairs in North America. Many major American manufacturing companies from pen manufacturers, to chemical companies, to computers, to automobiles had a major presence. This fair gave many attendees their first interaction with computer equipment.
Corporations demonstrated the use of mainframe computers, computer terminals with keyboards and CRT displays, teletype machines, punch cards, and telephone modems in an era when computer equipment was kept in back offices away from the public, decades before the Internet and home computers were at everyone’s disposal.
Industries played a major role at the New York World’s Fair of 1939/1940 by hosting huge, elaborate exhibits. Many of them returned to the New York World’s Fair of 1964/1965 with even more elaborate versions of the shows that they had presented 25 years earlier.
The most notable of these was General Motors Corporation whose Futurama proved to be the fair’s most popular exhibit, in which visitors seated in moving chairs glided past elaborately detailed miniature 3D model scenery showing what life might be like in the “near-future”. Nearly 26 million people took the journey into the future during the fair’s two-year run.
The IBM Corporation had a popular pavilion, where a giant 500-seat grandstand called the “People Wall” was pushed by hydraulic rams high up into an ellipsoidal theater designed by Eero Saarinen. There, a film by Charles and Ray Eames titled Think was shown on fourteen projectors on nine screens, illuminating the workings of computer logic.
At ground level beneath the theater, visitors could explore Mathematica: A World of Numbers… and Beyond (an exhibit of mathematical models and curiosities) and view the Mathematics Peep Show (a series of short films illustrating basic mathematical concepts).
New York City was left with a much-improved Flushing Meadows–Corona Park following the fair, taking possession of the park from the Fair Corporation in June 1967. The paths and their names remain almost unchanged from the days of the fair. An ancient Roman column from Jordan still stands near the Unisphere. A stone bench marking the site of the Vatican pavilion also stands east of the main fountain.
The Unisphere stands at the center of the park as a symbol of “Man’s Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe”. The Unisphere has become the iconic sculptural feature of the park, as well as a symbol of the borough of Queens in general. It stands on the site formerly occupied by the Perisphere during the earlier 1939-1940 Fair.
The New York Hall of Science, founded during the 1964 World’s Fair, was one of the country’s first dedicated science museums; it still operates in an expanded facility in its original location at the park’s northern corner.
The Hall of Science anchors a Space Park exhibiting the rockets and vehicles used in America’s early space exploration projects. The Space Park eventually deteriorated due to neglect, but in 2004 the surviving rockets were restored and placed back on display.
(Photo credit: AP Photo).