1939 New York World's Fair Explained

"1939 World's Fair" redirects here. The term can also refer to the Golden Gate International Exposition, which was held in San Francisco/Oakland at the same time as the New York fair.

The 1939–40 New York World's Fair, which covered the 1216acres of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (also the location of the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair), was the second largest American world's fair of all time, exceeded only by St. Louis's Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. Many countries around the world participated in it, and over 44 million people attended its exhibits in two seasons. The NYWF of 1939–1940 was the first exposition to be based on the future, with an opening slogan of "Dawn of a New Day", and it allowed all visitors to take a look at "the world of tomorrow". According to the official New York World's Fair pamphlet,

"The eyes of the Fair are on the future — not in the sense of peering toward the unknown nor attempting to foretell the events of tomorrow and the shape of things to come, but in the sense of presenting a new and clearer view of today in preparation for tomorrow; a view of the forces and ideas that prevail as well as the machines.

To its visitors the Fair will say: "Here are the materials, ideas, and forces at work in our world. These are the tools with which the World of Tomorrow must be made. They are all interesting and much effort has been expended to lay them before you in an interesting way. Familiarity with today is the best preparation for the future.'"

Planning

In 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, a group of New York City retired policemen 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 former chief of police Grover Whalen as the president of their committee. The committee included Winthrop Aldrich, Mortimer Buckner, Floyd Carlisle, Ashley T. Cole, John J. Dunnigan, Harvey Dow Gibson, Mayor 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, with countries around the world taking part in creating the biggest international event since World War I. Working closely with the Fair's committee was Robert Moses, New York City Parks Commissioner, who saw great value to the City in having the World's Fair Corporation (at its expense) remove a vast ash dump in Queens that was to be the site for the exposition, and turn the area into a City park after the exposition closed.

Edward Bernays directed public relations of the fair in 1939, which he called 'democricity'.[1] Grover Whalen, a public relations innovator, saw the Fair as an opportunity for corporations to present consumer products, rather than as an exercise in presenting science and the scientific way of thinking in its own right, as Harold Urey, Albert Einstein and other scientists wished to see the project.[2] "As events transpired," reported Carl Sagan,[3] whose own interest in science was nevertheless sparked by the Fair's gadgetry, "almost no real science was tacked on to the Fair's exhibits, despite the scientists' protests and their appeals to high principles."

Promotion of this great event took many forms. In 1938, the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and New York Yankees baseball teams did their part to promote the upcoming fair by wearing patches on their jerseys featuring the Trylon, Perisphere, and "1939" on their left sleeve. Howard Hughes flew a special World's Fair flight around the world to promote the fair in 1938.

While the main purpose of the fair was to lift the spirits of the United States and drive much-needed business to New York City, it was also felt that there should be a cultural or historical association. It was therefore decided that the fair opening would correspond to the 150th anniversary of George Washington's first inauguration as President of the United States, and the WPA painted murals which appeared in the New York Times Magazine.[4]

The Fair's two seasons

Grand opening

On April 30, 1939, a very hot Sunday, the fair had its grand opening, with 206,000 people in attendance. The April 30 date coincided with the 150th anniversary of George Washington's inauguration as President in New York City. Although many of the pavilions and other facilities were not quite ready for this opening, it was put on with pomp and great celebration. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the opening day address, and as a reflection of the wide range of technological innovation on parade at the fair, his speech was not only broadcast over the various radio networks but also was televised. NBC used the event to inaugurate regularly scheduled television broadcasts in New York City over their station W2XBS (now WNBC). An estimated 1,000 people viewed the Roosevelt telecast from about 200 television sets scattered throughout the New York area. In addition to Roosevelt's speech, Albert Einstein gave a speech which discussed cosmic rays. This was followed by the ceremonial lighting of the fair's lights. Dignitaries received a special Opening Day Program which contained their names written in Braille.

Exhibits

One of the first exhibits to receive attention was the Westinghouse Time Capsule, which was not to be opened for 5,000 years, not until 6939 AD. The time capsule was a tube containing writings by Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann, copies of Life Magazine, a Mickey Mouse watch, a Gillette Safety Razor, a kewpie doll, a dollar in change, a pack of Camel cigarettes, millions of pages of text on microfilm, and much more. The capsule also contained seeds of foods in common use at the time: (wheat, corn, oats, tobacco, cotton, flax, rice, soy beans, alfalfa, sugar beets, carrots and barley, all sealed in glass tubes). The time capsule is located at, at a depth of 50feet. A small stone plaque marks the position.[5]

Other exhibits included Vermeer's painting The Milkmaid from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam,[6]

Notes and References

  1. [The Century of the Self]
  2. Peter Kuznick, "Losing the World of Tomorrow: the Battle over the presentation of science at the 1939 World's Fair", American Quarterly 46.3 (September 1994), pp341-73.
  3. Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World1996:404.
  4. America creates American murals. Brenner, Anita. New York Times Magazine. 1938. April 10. 10-11, 18-19.
  5. Book: Westinghouse Electric (1886)

    . The book of record of the time capsule of cupaloy], deemed capable of resisting the effects of time for five thousand years, preserving an account of universal achievements, embedded in the grounds of the New York World's fair, 1939]. Westinghouse Electric Corporation. 1938. New York. Westinghouse Electric Corporation. 2007-03-01. 1447704. Westinghouse Electric (1886).

  6. News: | format = | title = Vermeer's Masterpiece The Milkmaid | date = 2009 | work = Metropolitan Museum of Art] | accessdate = 2009-09-23 }].