Our journey through highway propaganda culminates with the documentation of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair represented in the whimsical To the Fair (1965, Association Films for the New York World’s Fair Corporation). The film blends documentary, adventure narrative, and romantic comedy into an engaging twenty-five minute commercial for the World’s Fair, and provides us with a bookend to the industrial film genre that flourished and died away at mid-century’s end.
To the Fair draws self-consciously on the legacy of To New Horizons, as does the 1964-1965 Fair itself. This time, however, the film uses character and plot—albeit loosely structured—as its narrative focus, dialing back the bombastic appeals to manifest destiny and the long, panoramic shots of idealized landscapes that were so predominant in earlier ephemeral films. To the Fair opts instead for micro-narratives of individualized leisure, consumption, and entertainment that had by then become a defining characteristic of the “American dream” in the years following the war.
To the Fair recounts the adventures of visitors to the fair: it follows the antics of two young men pursuing two attractive women through the fair; the Wilsons, a white, middle-class nuclear family from “out west,” meet up with the jet-setting Chandras, a young, well-to-do couple from India; three Boy Scouts from the Bronx get separated from their troop; finally, two earnest schoolteachers from Kansas, Miss Abbot and Mrs. Todd, scour the educational and cultural exhibits in search of new teaching material.
This turn toward plot-driven narrative, seen also in the film Highway Hearing, indicates the changing expectations of American viewers who, by 1964, would have been much more media-savvy after a decade or so of television advertising. It may also be the case that, by the time of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, Americans had grown weary and a bit skeptical of grandiose utopian claims so common in earlier industrial films. A final explanation for the film’s reliance on fictional narrative and the romantic comedy/adventure plot may be suggested by the emphasis, throughout To the Fair, on individual and individualized pleasure, a notable difference from previous films that appealed so often to civic responsibility, cooperation, and national pride. By 1964, Americans had enjoyed a decade of prosperity and consumerism, during which, according to Thomas Hine, “the United States was virtually unchallenged as a world power, the economy was booming, and the country reveled in a kind of innocent hedonism” (3).
In this respect, the film highlights a significant shift in the American mindset that had taken place in the years between the fairs and in response to the second world war—the shift from citizen to consumer. Whereas earlier ephemeral films tended to emphasize citizenship, prosperity, economic growth, and national progress, To the Fair marks the arrival of a fully fledged “Consumer’s Republic” in which the “purchaser consumer” represents the new American ideal: “[n]ow the consumer satisfying personal material wants actually served the national interest” (Cohen 8).
The 1964-1965 World’s Fair did not, in fact, represent an experience that was especially novel to visitors. By the mid-1960s, Americans, particularly white, suburban, middle-class Americans, were all too familiar with commercial spaces designed around the habits of the suburban consumer; they were called “shopping centers,” and like the fair, they were “centrally located public spaces that integrated commerce with civic activity” (Cohen 261). Just as importantly, they offered plenty of parking. Like the mid-century shopping center, the 1964-1965 fair brought leisure and entertainment front and center as constitutive characteristics of American identity, backgrounding appeals to civic engagement, economic growth, and technological progress that characterized representations of the 1939-1940 fair. In this respect, To the Fair merely reflected the world outside the fair: a “consumer’s republic” redefined around suburban lifestyles, mass consumption, and the private automobile.
One way this shift from citizen to consumer is highlighted in To the Fair is through the antics of the young Boy Scouts. Though Boy Scouts are generally known for their heightened sense of duty, order, and responsible citizenship, these mischievous young scouts abandon formation to spend the day indulging in amusement rides and junk food. At the end of the day, they rejoin their regiment without incident, suggesting that, in the end, responsible citizenship and personal indulgence are no longer at odds in America.
In the film characters arrive in a succession of vehicles, and in many ways the entire fair is presented as a kind of fantastic amusement ride. Visitors glide along moving walkways, ascend to the top of space needles in glass elevators, and cruise in slick and sporty convertibles along the Ford Magic Skyway. One geeky fellow arrives in an “Amphicar,” and, for a touch of the historical, some visitors putter along in miniature “antique autos,” an attraction sponsored by Avis Rent-A-Car. The pastoral landscapes have fallen by the wayside, a casualty of the industrial space age that is figured, for one, in a glimpse of Futurama II that zooms in, not on a terrestrial vehicle but on a lunar rover crawling over rock and rubble.
In To the Fair, the vision of people driving through nature in the hermetically sealed bubble of their futuristic car has been replaced by the suggestion that cars draw people together in cozy groups. The Wilsons and the Chandras meet in line at a ride and spend time together riding new cars in the Ford exhibit; when the young bachelors finally catch their girls they cruise around in a car, implying that the automobile is a place where people can connect—maybe even hook up. From the viewing platforms of the fair’s towers, the young women gaze out onto a thoroughly urbanized landscape and watch, awestruck, as the clean, fast-moving highways bypass Flushing Meadows. By 1964, the world of the Futurama has come to life.
To the Fair’s opening sequence offers a very different narrative than the films from the thirties and forties, such as Conquering Roads and To New Horizons. Whereas these earlier films began with “road trips”—wagons, trains, cars—moving westward toward an undiscovered land of opportunity, the travelers in To the Fair move in the opposite direction: from the settled landscapes of midwestern towns, the Bronx, and urban India back to the fairgrounds of the past. In fact, they travel back to the very site of the 1939-1940 World’s Fair, Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York.
The same vehicles that sent out these explorers in the films—horse-drawn vehicles, trains, and personal cars—along with some featured in the original Futurama diorama (buses and air traffic) and several entertaining new ones, like water-shoes and the Amphicar, now provide the medium of return, a kind of time travel on well-maintained roads, railway lines, flight paths, and waterways. Wilderness, now a thing of the past, is no longer the preferred destination.
Likewise, the narrative of manifest destiny featured so strongly in the 1939-1940 World’s Fair is conspicuously absent in the film, replaced instead by multi-threaded character stories in which transportation figures prominently. The people featured in the opening sequence—the Wilsons driving; the Chandras arriving by air; Boy Scouts marching from the Bronx—all find themselves dropped into another transportation system as they enter the fair and each experiences an individualized series of road trips within the fair’s controlled landscape.
The film also demonstrates our increasing dependency on mechanical mobility, the ways in which human bodies have been caught up, for better or worse, in transportation networks. The young men fail to catch their women, the film suggests, because they haven’t been fully integrated into the system: while the women take the elevator, the men race, too slow, up the stairs. These (mis)adventures in transportation reveal much about the geographical and cultural changes that had taken place outside the fair, notably the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 and suburbanization, even while the fair itself attempted to recapture the peculiar mix of entertainment and education that captivated the people of 1939.
Adventure-time, Romance, and Everyday Life
In his discussion of the road chronotope, Mikhail Bakhtin identifies two types of tale in which “adventure-time” takes place on the road. The first, adventure-time in the ancient Greek romance, consists of a series of events in the protagonists’ lives that are bounded by an identical beginning and end: two lovers meet and fall in love; events befall them that cause them to part; they are, by narrative’s end, happily reunited. Crucially, although adventure-time takes place within the narrative, nothing actually changes outside the tale: the protagonists begin and end the story in love, and the adventure-time merely serves to “affirm what they, and precisely they, [are] as individuals . . . The hammer of events shatters nothing and forges nothing—it merely tries the durability of an already forged product” (107). The events inside the tale occur inside a kind of “no-time.” While internally time passes, overall time does not add up; the protagonists do not age, and there is no psychological development, no teaching moment or opportunity for the characters to change. In Bakhtin’s second type of narrative, conversely, change takes place within the structure of the story: “[i]t is not the time of a Greek romance, a time that leaves no traces . . . On the contrary, it leaves a deep and irradicable mark on the man himself as well as on his entire life” (116). This type of tale, which he calls the “adventure novel of everyday life,” features motifs of growth and transformation.
To the Fair provides examples of both kinds of narrative. Each of the characters experience the fair quite differently. For some, like the Boy Scouts and the Wilsons, the fair serves as a time-out-of-time that will have little bearing on the rest of their lives. For others, like the teachers, Miss Abbot and Mrs. Todd, the fair will leave an indelible mark. For the former groups, the primary purpose of the fair is pleasure and diversion, while for the latter the purpose is education and transformation. These two axes—temporary diversion versus lasting change—represent a fundamental tension between the two competing chronotopes in the film.
Despite their differing outcomes, both versions of adventure-time share important characteristics, notably their approach to or construction of space and time. Adventure-time, writes Bakhtin, is “characterized by a technical, abstract connection between space and time, by the reversibility of moments in a temporal sequence and by their interchangeability in time and space” (100), such that events within each story can happen in any order. Likewise, events must happen in an “abstract space,” because “[a] depiction of one’s own world—no matter where or what it is—could never achieve that degree of abstractness” necessary to allow events to unfold (100). In order not to be constrained by the structure of their everyday lives, in other words, the characters must travel to a different space where anything can happen. As well as being a time-out-of-time when anything can happen in any order, adventure-time also requires a space-out-of-space: a neutral, even fantastical, meeting ground for our protagonists.
This adventure chronotope is a key structuring principle in To the Fair. The characters come together in the temporary and fantastical landscape of the fair that suspends space and time by removing them geographically from their homes and cultures, and each proceeds to have his or her own adventure. The characters’ experiences take place both within the bounded time of the film and the bounded space of the fair, cutting them off from “real time” and “real space.”
As the film’s adventures unfold, the recurring motif of transportation stands as more than simply a backdrop. Rather, roads and cars provide the infrastructure that organizes the adventures of the fair’s visitors. The road becomes a key adventure-narrative device by offering a rhetorical framework that enables meetings and partings but also creates obstacles and opportunities, as the characters converge and diverge, bump into one another and then scatter as various exhibits lure them away.
While the groups ride on cable cars and trains and monorails, cars in particular become significant meeting spaces; the Chandras and the Wilsons ride together on the Ford Magic Skyway and through the Futurama II, and the young men and women finally come together, enjoying a “happy-ever-after” moment in an antique automobile.
Adventure-Time I: Nothing Happens Meeting and Parting at the Fair
The Wilsons typify the ideal nuclear American family: white, midwestern, and middle-class. Immediately upon entering the fair, they exchange one mode of transportation for another in the form of the “motor train,” an open-air covered Greyhound “Glide-a-Ride” with a boat-like front. The Wilsons embark on their tour of the fair, their youngest daughter pictured appealingly with bright eyes and a gaping mouth as they pass the main gardens and the Unisphere, a giant open globe that serves as the fair’s signature structure. Eventually the Wilsons, having “parked” their children in a play area, meet the Chandras, an elegant couple from India, while waiting in line for the Ford motor ride. Enjoying the ride together, they decide to continue on, passing through the Ford pavilion to General Motors’ Futurama II ride. The film makes much of the chance meeting between the Wilsons and the Chandras, noting that “[t]he Wilsons have never known anyone from the opposite side of the earth before.”
But the experience of the two parties provides a clear narrative not just of cultural division but also of class division. Whereas the Wilsons travel on public transportation in the form of the multiple-seated motor train, the Chandras arrive by private helicopter and then find their way around on a more exclusive vehicle, the Greyhound motorcab, a rickshaw-like machine with only two seats and the driver placed discreetly in the rear. While the Wilsons are plainly dressed in typical middle-American attire and chatter eagerly, the Chandras stand out as sophisticated and upper class, elegantly dressed in white (even the Indian couple’s surname suggest an elite, intellectual caste). These obvious differences in class and culture, the film suggests, are swiftly overcome by the democratizing spaces of the fair, intimating, perhaps, that the average American (read: white, middle-class) is on par socially and economically with foreign elites. To the Fair suggests, moreover, that large-scale leisure events like the fair or the suburban shopping center perpetuate cultural diversity and democracy (this in spite of the fact that beyond the boundaries of the idealized space-time of the fair racial conflict was at an all-time high in the United States).
At the end of the film, the couples part, and the Wilsons retrieve their children. They run to join a noisy carousel ride while the Chandras take to the sky once more in an overhead cable car, the Swiss Sky Ride, as the music fades and the sun sets. Thus, although the meeting of two very different sensibilities is overcome through the common experience of passing through the Ford and General Motors rides, ultimately the couples return to their respective worlds, suggesting that while transportation might enable excitement and diversion, such cross-cultural encounters are ultimately risk-free as the visitors return home unaffected by their encounter.
Lost and Found: Scout Troop 295
An even more self-contained narrative, representing a child’s-eye-view of the fair, is the story of Boy Scout Troop 295 from the Bronx, boys who are “doing the fair in an organized way.” The scouts march quickly in two lines through the fair, forming their own little transportation network. But three boys from the rear of the group, distracted by an Eskimo Pie booth, break formation and lose sight of the troop.
They conduct their own mini-adventure as they attempt to reunite themselves with their comrades. The boys’ quest will take them through the fair’s many rides, each proving irresistible and distracting them from their ultimate goal. In one montage we see them moving in succession on a spinning aerial ride, a suspended monorail (briefly moving in sync with the road traffic outside), a little train track, a car ride, and a water slide. Each ride is shot from the scouts’ point of view, reinforcing the excitement of a child visiting the world’s biggest playground. Tired but happy, the boys finally catch up with their troop and swing into formation at the rear. Nobody has noticed they were missing, and the entire group continues on as if nothing had happened.
A Romantic Pursuit
One more adventure happening within the confines of the fair is a story of pursuit and capture. Two fashionably dressed young ladies make their way through the fair, oblivious to the young bachelors who follow them. Obstacles and missed opportunities abound as the young men are stymied by passing transports (the long, low carriage train; closing elevators) and must resort to chasing the women on foot up stairs and through the fairgrounds.
The women, meanwhile, navigate escalators, elevators, and rotating platforms with ease; they have conquered the many moving spaces of the fair. It is only when the two young women stop for lunch that they are finally run to ground. The women vacate a table just as the young men, carrying sandwiches, spot them and dash across a shallow pool in their haste to catch them. Finally spotting their pursuers, the women giggle and decide to turn this into a chase. They follow the manicured paths while the men trample through bushes in pursuit of their quarry.
Finally, though, the young women turn the pursuit. Coming to the Avis Antique Auto Ride, they jump into an antique automobile. But for these modern girls, the old, spindly cars are difficult to drive. The lads chase behind (much better drivers, of course). The women’s car breaks down, and the scene reaches its joyful completion with couples paired off on the car ride, now driving slowly as violins play softly in the background. The lesson has been learned: the young men have mastered the transportation infrastructure of the fair and are rewarded with their prize. For the young women, conversely, the lesson is double: antiquated transportation is not sufficient if a young woman is to strive for independence—unless she wants to get captured. Although it is unclear whether these lessons will continue outside of the temporary space of the fair, the romantic pursuit narrative has reached its fulfillment.
Adventure-Time II Learning and Changing at the Fair
Although the stories of the Wilsons, the Chandras, and Troop 295 suggest that the fair was essentially a space in which temporary meetings and childish pleasures may be played out without enduring consequences, one character thread echoes more closely Bakhtin’s “adventure novel of everyday life” and its emphasis on lasting growth and change. Our final visitors to the fair are “the traveling teachers from Kansas, Miss Abbot and Mrs. Todd.” From the very beginning it is clear that these women, looking at a map, are planning their route rather than being pulled along by the diversions and side roads within the spacious grounds. They are there for a purpose: to return to their home with stories and lessons for their students. Eschewing most of the rides, apart from the “history of communication” demonstration at the Bell Pavilion, the teachers make their rounds of the educational and cultural displays. They visit a series of small open air science exhibits, looking to “find new ways for presenting complex ideas to their students,” and watch a slow series of wire shapes move in and out of soapy water that “reveal the beauty of geometry.”
Like their midwestern counterparts, the Wilsons, Miss Abbott and Mrs. Todd also encounter cultures other than their own. But while the Wilsons treat their meeting with the Chandras as a pleasant and unexpected interlude, the two teachers are determined to learn and see as much as they can in order to “bring back to their classes snapshots of the far east and stories of many lands.” The two women witness an Indonesian shadow puppet show, a Japanese tea ceremony, an energetic African drumming performance, and the hugely popular Pietà, Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Madonna and Christ on loan from the Vatican. Miss Abbott and Mrs. Todd are clearly on a mission: to extend their adventure-time out of the enclosed space of the fair to bring their experiences back into everyday life for their students. As a contrast to the more leisurely activities of the other characters in the film, Miss Abbott and Mrs. Todd’s journey through the exhibits is undoubtedly meant to promote the social worth, as well as entertaining value, of coming to the fair. Of course, while the film claims that these worldly and sophisticated pedagogues will return to Kansas with “stories of many lands,” the teachers never actually leave the comfort of their own country or culture, and in this way the film presents globalization as nothing more than a safe and entertaining encounter with the cultural “other” in a familiar, non-threatening environment.
What To the Fair carefully glosses is the commercial context of these scientific and cultural exhibits. Just as it was twenty-five years previously, science was being harnessed at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in the service of commercial interests. Lawrence Samuel notes:
Grounded in the child-friendly and progressive idea of “education,” science could be found nearly everywhere at the Fair. The WFC undoubtedly encouraged scientific exhibits to help offset the overt commercialism of the Fair, but, because they were sponsored by companies, governments, or even nonprofit organizations with a vested interest, they only added to the feeling that everyone was selling something at every corner of the grounds. (167)
Similarly, idealized depictions of national activities such as the Tea Ceremony encouraged a kind of superficial consumption of culture—sometimes quite literally, in the many international food booths. Miss Abbott and Mrs. Todd, thus, may be taking more than science lessons back to their students. They will return to Kansas from their adventure at the fair with the implicit message that science is enabled through the generosity of large corporations and that world cultures come conveniently packaged to be easily transported to another country.
The Chronotope of the New York World’s Fairs
To the Fair stands, in its own right, as an adventure story depicting technological and commercial wonders that would allow for an entertaining diversion into adventure-time. But we can also step back and consider both World’s Fairs—1939-1940 and 1964-1965—as marking, respectively, the beginning and end points of a compellingly crafted narrative that promised a new technologically mediated landscape on which to travel the path of life. Certainly there is a mirror-image component to the two fairs as the American public traveled from the world of Futurama to Futurama II. Visitors left New York and Flushing Meadows in 1939, and returned to precisely the same place twenty-five years later. Both fairs indulged fantasies about the commingling of an idealized past and future: in 1939, the harmonious blending of an idealized natural past and a technological city of the future; in 1964, the combination of American social traditions (the Wilsons’ nuclear family, the Boy Scouts, the strapping young bachelors as a new generation of robust American men) and a globalized, technologized future (this time featuring space travel, computers, and laser beams).
But the optimism offered in 1939 was not borne out by 1964. Gregory Clark describes the 1939 World’s Fair as “invented and arranged to provide individual members of a diverse American public with . . . a representative landscape that would symbolize for them a unified “myth” or “vision” of their nation” (130).
The voice of the Futurama II exhibit continued to promote ease of living and the pursuit of new horizons, albeit to the moon instead of into the wilderness, but the dream of urban social change and harmonious integration into a pastoral world had been replaced, by 1964, with a pervasive suburban consumerism that valued the auto-centric nuclear family unit over communitarian principles. Rather than unifying citizen and country, Lawrence Samuel argues, Futurama II was most notable for its insistence on the mining and extraction of natural resources:
The 1964-65 version of Futurama was rooted in the missionary-style “conquest” and exploitation of various natural environments. . . . [I]n one segment, giant machines of the future invaded a primordial jungle, taking down ancient trees with red laser beams right out of War of the Worlds. The machine proceeded to gobble up the trees and undergrowth and then, miraculously, extract a four-lane highway from its rear. (185)
Highways, it turns out, did not provide a means of reconciling nature and the city; rather, they became a replacement in themselves for a depleted natural landscape.
Meanwhile, outside the fair, the consequences of ambitious highway building projects were becoming increasingly clear.
Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities, published in 1961, called into doubt the idea that highways enabled social and physical mobility for the better; instead, the new freeways, tollways, and parkways divided cities, created economic enclaves, dislocated neighborhoods, and facilitated white flight to the suburbs. To the Fair’s use of transportation technologies as a narrative scaffolding for the adventures of characters reveals one more key change in the America of 1964: within the bounded and disciplined spaces of Flushing Meadows, experiences and technologies were interchangeable. Likewise, outside the fair, the highway had succeeded in reshaping the landscape into modular consumer experiences, complete with identical rest stops, fast food chains, standardized signage, strip malls, and cookie-cutter commuter housing.
Expanding on the vision of Norman Bel Geddes’ Futurama ride from the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair and aiming to repeat its success, General Motors’ Futurama II was among the most popular exhibits at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. Whereas Geddes’ design looked ahead twenty years to imagine what life would be like in 1960, designers of Futurama II looked one hundred years into the future. And unlike Geddes’ original design, Futurama II didn’t focus only on a future American landscape transformed by automobile travel, though certainly there were plenty of multi-laned highways and motorcars to satisfy the audience.
Futurama II went further, showing visitors futuristic scenes befitting the 1960s space age. The diorama’s technological wonders marked not a harmonious integration of urban and rural landscapes, but rather man’s conquest of nature. Futurama II showed a space station (complete with a fast food restaurant) on the moon while lunar rovers crawled across its surface. Oceans would be farmed and mined for their resources, and people would travel the deep in submarines and live in underwater resorts. The Grand Canyon, Antarctica, and the Amazon were not beyond the penetrating gaze of Futurama II designers. One could dangle precariously on the edge of the Grand Canyon in a futuristic mansion. Domed domiciles made living in Antarctica possible while huge machines equipped with laser beams mowed down trees in the rain forest. In the machine’s wake, a highway appeared.
Heys, Ed. “GM’s Futurama II: Living (and Driving GM Vehicles) in the Year 2064.” Hemmings Motor News (Feb. 2009).
To the Fair. Prod. Association Films. Dir. Alexander Hammid and Wheaton Galentine. New York World’s Fair 1964-65 Corp., 1965. Film still. Prelinger Archives.
Notes from the Polyrhetor:
The Amphicar, produced from 1961 to 1968 by the German industrial behemoth IWKA Corporation and designed by industrial designer Hans Trippel, was an amphibious vehicle featured at the 1965 World’s Fair. The Amphicar was descended from a much earlier design by Trippel, the 1932 Volkswagen “Schwimmwagen,” a prototype for the amphibious Schwimmfahiger Gelanden military vehicles used by the German Wehrmacht during World War II. President Lyndon Johnson owned a Lagoon Blue 1962 Amphicar, which is now housed at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Park in Texas.
The Amphicar was featured in To the Fair’s opening sequence, where a nerdily dressed man arrives at the Fair in a white Amphicar, emerges from the water at a boat-ramp, parks, and proceeds through the Fair. The official guide describes the Amphicar ride, part of the Lake Amusement Area at the fair:
The Amphicar, built in West Germany for sale to the public, looks like a regular sports convertible but has a waterproof bottom and sides, and twin propellers. Fairgoers ride down a ramp into Meadow Lake; after a short cruise they are back on land again, safe and dry.
1965 Official Guide: New York World’s Fair (“all new for 1965”). NY Times, Inc. 1964.
Bishop, Chris. The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II. New York: Metrobooks, 2002.
Schmidt, Gretchen. German Pride. New York: Citadel Press Books, 2003.
To the Fair. Prod. Association Films. Dir. Alexander Hammid and Wheaton Galentine. New York World’s Fair 1964-65 Corp., 1965. Film still. Prelinger Archives.
Notes from the Polyrhetor:
Ford Magic Skyway
Rivaling General Motors’ Futurama II at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair was the massive Wonder Rotunda, which featured the Ford Magic Skyway, an attraction designed by Walt Disney Studio and featuring animatronic dinosaurs and cavemen. Riders were seated in a new model of a Ford convertible that glided along a large “people-mover.” The car served as a “time-machine” transporting visitors through time and space, beginning with the prehistoric age of dinosaurs, through the dawn of man (focusing, of course, on the marvelous invention of the wheel), and ending on the “threshold of tomorrow” with its “highway in the sky carrying you across the boundless night and out into time and space.” The entire ride was narrated by Walt Disney.
To the Fair. Prod. Association Films. Dir. Alexander Hammid and Wheaton Galentine. New York Worlds Fair 1964-65 Corp., 1965. Film still. Prelinger Archives.
Notes from the Polyrhetor:
1964-1965 New York World’s Fair
Built in Flushing Meadows, the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair reused much of the infrastructure put in place for the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in an effort to reconstruct the greatness of that earlier time. The fair’s major themes, “Peace through Understanding” and “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe,” both reflected the traumas of World War II, the turbulence of the Civil Rights era, and mounting Cold War anxieties in an increasingly networked and globalized world.
The centerpiece of the fair was the Unisphere, which visually extended the theme of global unity. The thirteen-story stainless steel sculpture of Earth even included three orbital rings that signified satellites circling the planet and commemorated the dawn of the space age.
In a National Geographic feature about the fair Carolyn Bennett Patterson expounded on this vision of peace and global unification, musing:
Yet, what does it all mean?
Only what the Fair itself proclaims: that the earth is small and its peoples forever intertwined. Lindbergh flew to France; New York’s law evolved from concepts in Rome; Hawaii draws strength from Polynesian origins; all New England owes a debt to Great Britain. Thus is fashioned the unbreakable chain that binds all mankind. (Patterson 528)
The fair was divided into six exhibit areas: Industrial, International, Federal and States, Lake Amusements, Transportation, and Flushing Bay. Among the exhibitors at the fair were representatives from eighty nations, twenty-three U.S. States, and a number of major U.S. corporations including Clairol, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, Dupont, Eastman Kodak, Formica, General Electric, General Foods, Bell Telephone, IBM, Johnson Wax, and Disney. In the Transportation area, which included exhibits such as Ford Motor Company’s Wonder Rotunda and GM’s Futurama II, allowed visitors to glimpse possible futures of interstate travel and other transportation futures, while “the Underground Home,” the least popular of the Fair’s exhibits, displayed a modern ten-room subterranean house to be occupied in the event of nu- clear fallout.
Despite 51 million visitors in two consecutive summers, which fell short of the target of 70 million set by the fair’s president, Robert Moses, the 1964-1965 World’s Fair turned out to be a losing investment, costing one billion dollars to construct but earning only 900 million dollars in revenue over two seasons.
Cotter, Bill, and Bill Young. The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
Patterson, Carolyn Bennett. “New York World’s Fair 1964-1965.” National Geographic (Apr. 1965): 504-29.
“The Unisphere in Flushing Meadows - Corona Park, New York City, USA.” 2010. Contributor: Flapane. Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-SA.