On April 22, 1964, the 1964–1965 New York World’s Fair opens for its first of two seasons. The fair held over 140 pavilions, 110 restaurants, for 80 nations (hosted by 37), 24 U.S. states, and over 45 corporations to build exhibits or attractions at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York. The immense fair covered 646 acres (261 hectares) on half the park, with numerous pools or fountains, and an amusement park with rides near the lake. However, the fair did not receive official sanctioning from the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE).
Hailing itself as a “universal and international” exposition, the fair’s theme was “Peace Through Understanding”, dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe”. American companies dominated the exposition as exhibitors. 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 New York City fair. The fair ran for two six-month seasons, April 22 – October 18, 1964, and April 21 – October 17, 1965. Admission price for adults (13 and older) was $2 in 1964 (equivalent to $15.78 in 2017) but $2.50 (equivalent to $19.41 in 2017) in 1965, and $1 for children (2–12) both years (equivalent to $7.89 in 2017).
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 fair as children before the turbulent years of the Vietnam War, cultural changes, and increasing domestic violence associated with the Civil Rights Movement.
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.
The site, Flushing Meadows Corona Park in the borough of Queens, was previously Manhattan’s Corona Ash Dumps featured prominently in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as the Valley of Ashes. Prior to that, the site had been a natural wetland — literally wetland meadows that would flush the nearby runoff entering the adjacent bay. Flushing Meadows had been a Dutch settlement, named after the village of Vlissingen (which translates from Dutch to English as “flushing”).
Subsequently, the site was reclaimed for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, one of the largest world’s fairs to be held in the United States, occupying nearly a square mile (2.6 km²) of land. The 1939 fair also occupied space that was filled in for the 1964-1965 exposition. Preceding these fairs was the 1853–1854 New York’s World’s Fair, called the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, located in the New York Crystal Palace on what is now Bryant Park in the borough of Manhattan, New York City All three of New York’s world’s fairs were the only international expositions to run for two years, rather than one.
The 1964-1965 World’s Fair was conceived by a group of New York businessmen who remembered their childhood experiences at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Thoughts of an economic boom to the city as the result of increased tourism was a major reason for holding another fair 25 years after the 1939-1940 extravaganza. Then-New York City mayor, Robert F. Wagner, Jr., commissioned Frederick Pittera, a producer of international fairs and exhibitions, and author of the history of International Fairs & Exhibitions for the Encyclopædia Britannica and Compton’s Encyclopedia, to prepare the first feasibility studies for the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. He was joined by Austrian architect Victor Gruen (creator of the shopping mall) in studies that eventually led the Eisenhower Commission to award the world’s fair to New York City in competition with a number of American cities.
Organizers turned to private financing and the sale of bonds to pay the huge costs to stage them. The organizers hired New York’s “Master Builder” Robert Moses, to head the corporation established to run the fair because he was experienced in raising money for vast public projects. Moses had been a formidable figure in the city since coming to power in the 1930s. He was responsible for the construction of much of the city’s highway infrastructure and, as parks commissioner for decades, the creation of much of the city’s park system.
In the mid-1930s, Moses oversaw the conversion of a vast Queens tidal marsh garbage dump into the fairgrounds that hosted the 1939-1940 World’s Fair. Called Flushing Meadows Park, it was Moses’ grandest park scheme. He envisioned this vast park, comprising some 1,300 acres (5 km²) of land, easily accessible from Manhattan, as a major recreational playground for New Yorkers. When the 1939-1940 World’s Fair ended in financial failure, Moses did not have the available funds to complete work on his project. He saw the 1964-1965 Fair as a means to finish what the earlier fair had begun.
To ensure profits to complete the park, fair organizers knew they would have to maximize receipts. An estimated attendance of 70 million people would be needed to turn a profit and, for attendance that large, the fair would need to be held for two years. The World’s Fair Corporation also decided to charge site-rental fees to all exhibitors who wished to construct pavilions on the grounds. This decision caused the fair to come into conflict with the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), as the international body headquartered in Paris that sanctions world’s fairs: BIE rules stated that an international exposition could run for one six-month period only, and no rent could be charged to exhibitors. In addition, the rules allowed only one exposition in any given country within a 10-year period, and the Seattle World’s Fair had already been sanctioned for 1962.
The United States was not a member of the BIE at the time, but fair organizers understood that a sanction by the BIE would assure that its nearly 40 member nations would participate in the fair. Moses, undaunted by the rules, journeyed to Paris to seek official approval for the New York fair. When the BIE balked at New York’s bid, Moses, used to having his way in New York, angered the BIE delegates by taking his case to the press, publicly stating his disdain for the BIE and its rules. The BIE retaliated by formally requesting its member nations not to participate in the New York fair. The 1939-1940 and 1964-1965 New York World’s Fairs were the only significant world’s fairs since the formation of the BIE to be held without its endorsement.
Many of the pavilions were built in a Mid-Century modern style that was heavily influenced by “Googie architecture”. This was a futurist architectural style influenced by car culture, jet aircraft, the Space Age, and the Atomic Age, which were all on display at the fair. Some pavilions were explicitly shaped like the product they were promoting, such as the US Royal tire-shaped Ferris wheel, or even the corporate logo, such as the Johnson Wax pavilion. Other pavilions were more abstract representations, such as the oblate spheroid-shaped IBM pavilion, or the General Electric circular dome shaped “Carousel of Progress”.
The pavilion architectures often expressed a new-found freedom of form enabled by modern building materials, such as reinforced concrete, fiberglass, plastic, tempered glass, and stainless steel. The façade or the entire structure of a pavilion served as a giant billboard advertising the country or organization housed inside, flamboyantly competing for the attention of busy and distracted fairgoers.
By contrast, some of the smaller international, US state, and organizational pavilions were built in more traditional styles, such as a Swiss chalet or a Chinese temple. After the fair’s final closing in 1965, some pavilions crafted of wood were carefully disassembled and transported elsewhere for re-use.
Other pavilions were “decorated sheds”, a building method later described by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, using plain structural shells embellished with applied decorations. This allowed designers to simulate a traditional style while bypassing expensive and time-consuming methods of traditional construction. The expedient was considered acceptable for temporary buildings planned to be used for only two years, and then to be demolished.
The BIE rejection was nearly a disaster for the fair. The absence of Canada, Australia, most of the major European nations and the Soviet Union, all members of the BIE, tarnished the image of the fair. Additionally, New York was forced to compete with both Seattle and Montreal for international participants, with many nations choosing the officially sanctioned world’s fairs of those cities over the New York Fair. The fair turned to trade and tourism organizations within many countries to sponsor national exhibits in lieu of official government sponsorship of pavilions.
New York City, in the middle of the 20th century, was at a zenith of economic power and world prestige. Unconcerned by BIE rules, nations with smaller economies (as well as private groups in some BIE members) saw it as an honor to host an exhibit at the Fair. Therefore, smaller nations made up the majority of the international participation. Spain, Vatican City, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Thailand, Philippines, Greece, Pakistan, and Ireland to name some, hosted national presences at the Fair. Indonesia sponsored a pavilion, but relations deteriorated rapidly between that nation and the United States during 1964, fueled by anti-Western and anti-American rhetoric and policies by Indonesian president Sukarno, which angered U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. Indonesia withdrew from the United Nations in January 1965, and officially from the Fair in March. The Fair Corporation then seized and shut down the Indonesian pavilion, and it remained closed and barricaded for the 1965 season.
One of the fair’s most popular exhibits was the Vatican Pavilion, where Michelangelo’s Pietà was displayed. Francis Cardinal Spellman, who had requested the statue be brought in from St Peter’s Basilica with the permission of Pope John XXIII, appointed Edward M. Kinney, Director of Purchasing and Shipping of Catholic Relief Services – USCC, to head up the Vatican Transport Teams. A modern replica had been transported beforehand to ensure that the statue could be conveyed without being damaged. This copy is now on view in the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Douglaston, New York. People stood in line for hours to catch a glimpse from a conveyor belt moving past the sculpture. It was returned to the Vatican after the fair. A small plaza, exedra monument, marking the spot (and Pope Paul VI’s visit in October 1965) remains there today. The exedra monument is now utilized with permits since 1975 for prayer Vigils by Our Lady of the Roses relocated from Bayside, New York.
A recreation of a medieval Belgian village proved very popular. Fairgoers were treated to the “Bel-Gem Brussels Waffle” — a combination of waffle, strawberries and whipped cream, sold by a Brussels couple, Maurice Vermersch and his wife.
Fairgoers could also enjoy sampling sandwiches from around the world at the popular Seven Up International Sandwich Gardens Pavilion which featured the innovative fiberglass Seven Up Tower. In addition to all the 7-Up beverages one could drink, fair-goers were invited to sample varied culinary delights representing sixteen countries. While dinning, visitors enjoyed live performances on four circular stages from various instrumentalists which included a five piece musical ensemble — the 7-Up Continental Band. The musical programs included popular show tunes from the Broadway stage in America, as well as musical favorites from both Europe and Latin America. The soloist John Serry Sr. appeared regularly with the orchestra to compliment the international flavor of the musical program. The dining pods featured furnishings designed by the futuristic Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen and were enclosed by twenty-four futuristic fiberglass domes which were topped by a commanding clock tower which soared over 107 feet (33 m) above the entire pavilion.
Emerging African nations displayed their wares in the Africa Pavilion. Controversy broke out when the Jordanian pavilion displayed a mural emphasizing the plight of the Palestinian people. The Jordanians also donated an ancient column which remains at their former site. The city of West Berlin, a Cold War hot-spot, hosted a popular display.
On April 21, 1965, as part of the opening ceremonies for the second season of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, Ethiopian long-distance runners Abebe Bikila and Mamo Wolde participated in an exclusive ceremonial half marathon. They ran from the Arsenal in Central Park at 64th Street & Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to the Singer Bowl at the fair. They carried with them a parchment scroll with greetings from Haile Selassie.
United States Pavilion
The U.S. Pavilion was titled “Challenge to Greatness” and focused on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” proposals. The main show in the multimillion-dollar pavilion was a 15-minute ride through a filmed presentation of American history. Visitors seated in moving grandstands rode past movie screens that slid in, out and over the path of the traveling audience. Elsewhere, there were tributes to President John F. Kennedy, who had broken ground for the pavilion in December 1962 but had been assassinated in November 1963 before the fair opened.
United States Space Park
A 2-acre (8,100 m²) United States Space Park was sponsored by NASA, the Department of Defense and the fair. Exhibits included a full-scale model of the aft skirt and five F-1 engines of the first stage of a Saturn V, a Titan II booster with a Gemini capsule, an Atlas with a Mercury capsule and a Thor-Delta rocket. On display at ground level were Aurora 7, the Mercury capsule flown on the second U.S. manned orbital flight; full-scale models of an X-15 aircraft, an Agena upper stage; a Gemini spacecraft; an Apollo command/service module, and a Lunar Excursion Module. Replicas of unmanned spacecraft included lunar probe Ranger VII; Mariner II and Mariner IV; Syncom, Telstar I, and Echo II communications satellites; Explorer I and Explorer XVI; and Tiros and Nimbus weather satellites.
New York State Pavilion
New York played host to the fair at its six-million-dollar open-air pavilion called the “Tent of Tomorrow.” Designed by famed modernist architect Philip Johnson, the 350-foot-by-250-foot pavilion was supported by sixteen 100-foot-high concrete columns, from which a 50,000-square-foot roof of polychrome tiles was suspended. Complementing the pavilion were the fair’s three high-spot observation towers, two of which had cafeterias in their in-the-round observation-deck crowns.
The pavilion’s main floor, used for local art and industry displays including a 26-foot scale reproduction of the New York State Power Authority’s St. Lawrence hydroelectric plant, comprised a 9,000-square-foot terrazzo replica of the official Texaco highway map of New York State, displaying the map’s cities, towns, routes and Texaco gas stations in 567 mosaic panels.
An idea floated after the fair to use the floor for the World Trade Center did not materialize. The Fair was held in New York in honor of the 300th Anniversary of the naming of New York when King Charles II sent an English fleet to reclaim it from the Dutch in 1664. Prince James, the Duke of York named it New York from New Amsterdam.
Other State Pavilions
Wisconsin exhibited the “World’s Largest Cheese.” Florida brought a dolphin show, flamingos, a talented cockatoo from Miami’s Parrot Jungle, and water skiers to New York. Oklahoma gave weary fairgoers a restful park to relax in. Missouri displayed the state’s space-related industries. Visitors could dine at Hawaii’s “Five Volcanoes” restaurant.
New York City Pavilion
At the New York City pavilion, the Panorama of the City of New York (a huge scale model of the City) was on display, complete with a simulated helicopter ride around the metropolis for easy viewing. Left over from the 1939 Fair, this building had been used partially as a recreational public roller skating rink.
Bourbon Street Pavilion
Louisiana had a pavilion called “Louisiana’s Bourbon Street” (later renamed to just “Bourbon Street”), which was inspired by New Orleans’ French Quarter. It started off with financial trouble, not being able to complete its construction and subsequently filing for bankruptcy. A private company, called Pavilion Property, bought up the assets and assumed its debts. This prompted Louisiana Governor John McKeithen to sever all ties and withdraw state’s sanction, leaving the pavilion completely to private enterprise.
Special media attention was given to a racially integrated minstrel show, that was intended to be satirical anti-bigotry, called “America, Be Seated”, produced by Mike Todd Jr. During the opening of the fair, several civil rights protests were staged by members of the NAACP, who believed that the “minstrel-style” show was demeaning to African-Americans.
The pavilion included ten theater restaurants, which served a variety of Creole food, a Jazz club called “Jazzland” which hosted live jazz artists, miniature Mardi Gras parades, a teenage dancing venue, a voodoo shop, and a doll museum. Due to the presence of the various bars, the pavilion was especially popular at night. Notable go-go dancer Candy Johnson headlined a show at a venue called “Gay New Orleans Nightclub”. Near the closure of the fair, the pavilion was reported to have achieved the highest gross income of any single commercial pavilion at the fair. The 26-year-old director of operations, Gordon Novel, was called an “Entrepreneurial Prodigy & Boy Wonder” in Variety for his accomplishments.
General Motors Pavilion
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). IBM also demonstrated handwriting recognition on a mainframe computer that would look up what happened on a particular date that a person wrote down — for many visitors, this was their first hands-on interaction with a computer.
Bell System Pavilion
The Bell System (prior to its break up into regional companies) hosted a 15-minute ride in moving armchairs depicting the history of communications in dioramas and film. Other Bell exhibits included the Picturephone as well as a demonstration of the computer modem.
The Westinghouse Corporation planted a second time capsule next to the 1939 one; today both Westinghouse Time Capsules are marked by a monument southwest of the Unisphere which is to be opened in the year 6939. Some of its contents were a World’s Fair Guidebook, an electric toothbrush, credit cards (relatively new at the time) and a 50-star United States flag.
Sinclair Oil Pavilion
The Sinclair Oil Corporation sponsored Dinoland, featuring life-size replicas of nine different dinosaurs, including the corporation’s signature Brontosaurus. The statues were created by Louis Paul Jonas Studios in Hudson, New York.
The Ford Motor Company introduced the Ford Mustang automobile to the public at its pavilion on April 17, 1964. The Ford pavilion featured the “Ford’s Magic Skyway” ride, in which guests rode in Ford convertibles past scenes featuring dinosaurs, cavemen, and a futuristic cityscape.
DuPont presented a musical review by composer Michael Brown called “The Wonderful World of Chemistry”.
Parker Pen Pavilion
At the Parker Pen Company’s exhibit, a computer would make a match to an international penpal.
Chunky Candy Pavilion
The Chunky Candy Corporation put on a transparent display of candy manufacturing where visitors were able to view “all the steps in a highly automated process”. The Pavilion also included an interactive sculpture playground called “Sculpture Continuum,” designed by Oliver O’Connor Barrett.
The fair was also a showplace for independent films. One of the most noted was a religious film titled Parable which showed at the Protestant Pavilion. It depicted humanity as a traveling circus and Jesus Christ as a clown. This marked the beginning of a new depiction of Jesus and was the inspiration for the musical Godspell. Parable later went on to be honored at Cannes, as well as the Edinburgh Film Festival and Venice Film Festival. Another religious film was presented by evangelist Billy Graham called Man in the 5th Dimension. It was shot in the 70mm Todd-AO widescreen process for exclusive presentation in a specially designed theater equipped with audio equipment that enabled viewers to listen to the film in Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish. The 13½ minute film Man’s Search for Happiness was made for the Mormon Pavilion.
The surprise hit of the fair was a non-commercial movie short presented by the SC Johnson Wax Company called To Be Alive!. The film celebrated the joy of life found worldwide and in all cultures, and it won a special award from the New York Film Critics Circle and the 1965 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject).
The fair is remembered as the venue that Walt Disney used to design and perfect his system of “Audio-Animatronics”, in which electromechanical actuators and computers control the movement of lifelike robots to act out scenes. WED Enterprises designed and created four shows at the fair:
- “Pepsi-Cola Presents Walt Disney’s ‘It’s a Small World’ — a Salute to UNICEF and the World’s Children” at the Pepsi-Cola pavilion: Animated dolls and animals frolicked in a spirit of international unity accompanying a boat ride around the world. The iconic song was written by the Sherman Brothers. Each of the animated dolls had an identical face designed by New York artist Gregory S. Marinello in partnership with Walt Disney.
- General Electric sponsored “Progressland” where an audience was seated in a revolving auditorium called the “Carousel of Progress”, where they viewed an audio-animatronic presentation of the progress of electricity in the home. The Sherman Brothers composed “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” for this attraction. The highlight of the exhibit demonstrated a brief plasma “explosion” of controlled nuclear fusion.
- Ford Motor Company presented “Ford’s Magic Skyway”, a WED Imagineering-designed pavilion which was the second-most popular exhibit at the fair. It featured 50 motorless convertible Ford vehicles, including Mustangs, in an early prototype of what became the PeopleMover ride system. Audience members entered the vehicles on a main platform as they moved slowly along the track. The ride moved the audience through scenes featuring life-sized, audio-animatronic dinosaurs and cavemen.
- At the Illinois pavilion, a lifelike President Abraham Lincoln recited his famous speeches in “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln”, voiced by Royal Dano.
WED also created the 120-foot-high (37 m) Tower of the Four Winds which was located at the It’s a Small World pavilion. In addition, costumed versions of Walt Disney’s famous cartoon characters roamed around the fairgrounds and interacted with guests. After the fair, there was some discussion of the Disney company retaining these exhibits on-site and converting Flushing Meadows Park into an East Coast version of Disneyland, but this idea was abandoned. Instead, Disney relocated several of the exhibits to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and subsequently replicated them at other Disney theme parks. Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida is essentially the realization of the original concept of an “East Coast Disneyland”, with Epcot Center designed as a permanent world’s fair.
Failure of Amusements
One of the fair’s major crowd-attracting and financial shortcomings was the absence of a midway. The fair’s organizers were opposed, on principle, to the honky-tonk atmosphere engendered by midways, and this was another thing that irked the BIE, which insisted that all officially sanctioned fairs have a midway. What amusements the fair actually had ended up being largely dull. The Meadow Lake Amusement Area was not easily accessible, and officials objected to shows being advertised.
Furthermore, although the Amusement Area was supposed to remain open for four hours after the exhibits closed at 10 pm, the fair presented a fountain-and-fireworks show every night at 9 pm at the Pool of Industry. Fairgoers would see this show and then leave the fair rather than head to the Amusement Area; one was hard pressed to see anyone on the fairgrounds by midnight.
The fair’s big entertainment spectacles, including the “Wonder World” at the Meadow Lake Amphitheater, “To Broadway with Love” in the Texas Pavilion, and Dick Button’s “Ice-travaganza” in the New York City Pavilion, all closed ahead of schedule, with heavy losses. It became apparent that fairgoers did not go to the fair for its entertainment value, especially as there was plenty of entertainment in Manhattan.
A notable exception to this situation was Les Poupées de Paris (The Dolls of Paris), an adults-only musical puppet show created, produced and directed by Sid and Marty Krofft. This show, modeled after the Paris revues Lido and Folies Bergère, was heavily attended, and financially successful.
The fair ended in controversy over allegations of financial mismanagement. Controversy had plagued it during much of its two-year run. The Fair Corporation had taken in millions of dollars in advance ticket sales for both the 1964 and 1965 seasons. However, the receipts of these sales were booked entirely against the first season of the fair. This made it appear that the fair had plenty of operating cash when, in fact, it was borrowing from the second season’s gate to pay the bills. Before and during the 1964 season, the fair spent much money despite attendance that was below expectations. By the end of the 1964 season, Moses and the press began to realize that there would not be enough money to pay the bills and the fair teetered on bankruptcy. In March 1965, a group of bankers and politicians asked showman Billy Rose to take over the fair, which he declined stating: “I’d rather be hit by a baseball bat” and “cancer in its last stages never attracted me very much”.
While the 1939–1940 New York World’s Fair returned 40 cents on the dollar to bond investors, the 1964-1965 fair returned only 19.2 cents on the dollar. The Fair Corporation was unable to repay its financial backers their investment, and it became embroiled in legal disputes with its creditors until 1970, when the books were finally closed and the New York World’s Fair 1964–1965 Corporation was dissolved. Most of the pavilions constructed for the fair were demolished within six months following the fair’s close. While only a handful of pavilions and exhibits survived, some of them traveled great distances and found new homes following the fair.
New York City was left with a much-improved Flushing Meadows Park following the fair, taking possession of the park from the Fair Corporation in June 1967. Today, it is heavily used for walking and recreation, and the paths and their names remain almost unchanged from the days of the fair. The Unisphere stands at the center of the park as a symbol of “Man’s Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe”. It was featured in the 1997 film Men in Black, where it was portrayed as being destroyed by a crashing space ship. The Unisphere has become a symbol of Queens and has appeared on the cover of the borough’s telephone directory books.
The city also inherited a multimillion-dollar science museum and space park exhibiting the rockets and vehicles used in America’s early space exploration projects. The space park deteriorated due to neglect, but in 2004 the surviving rockets were restored and placed back on display. The outdoors exhibit is now part of the expanded New York Hall of Science, a portion of whose building is also a remnant of the fair. The carousel that was the centerpiece of Carousel Park in the Lake Amusement Area was relocated to the former Transportation Area outside of the Queens Zoo in the park where it still operates today.
The New York State Pavilion was retained for future use, but it found no use other than as TV and movie sets. In the decades after the fair closed, it remained an abandoned and badly neglected relic, with its roof gone and the once bright floors and walls almost faded away; the Texaco terrazzo floor map of New York State was exposed to the weather and was ruined. In 1994, the Queens Theater took over the Circarama adjacent to the towers and continues to operate there, using the ruined state pavilion as a storage depot. Some conservation and restoration efforts were demonstrated in 2008 by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, and a handful of local groups advocated for funds to complete the tile floor’s restoration. The New York State Pavilion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. In the fall of 2013, New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation announced plans to restore the pavilion with new landscaped paths and event spaces at an estimated cost of $73 million, as opposed to the $14 million cost to demolish the structure.
The former New York City Pavilion is now home to the Queens Museum, which also continues to display the scale model Panorama of the City of New York, updated from time to time. The historic 1939 structure also has an excellent display of memorabilia from the two world’s fairs, as well as an original 3D scale model of the entire 1964 World’s Fair site. In April 2011, the Queens Museum broke ground on an expansion project that almost doubled its floor space, bringing the total to about 100,000 square feet (9,300 m²). Flushing Meadows-Corona Park became the home to the United States Tennis Association in 1978, and the US Open tennis tournament is played there annually.
One of the legacies of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair is the amount of stamp-oriented material that can be found today. Although there doesn’t seem to be any pictorial or themed-day cancellations, the United States Post Office Department had a machine cancellation noting the fair applied to mail throughout the New York City area. The organizing corporation had “official poster stamps” created and, while the labels themselves are quite common, the folders and albums they were sold in are scarce. The United Nations Postal Administration produced souvenir folders containing stamps usable at the New York headquarters of the U.N. There was even a World’s Fair Stamp Day.
Many of the nations attending the fair released stamps to commemorate the event. On February 10, 1964, Sierra Leone issued 14 die-cut self-adhesive stamps to commemorate the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair (Scott #257-263 and #C14-20). These were touted at the world’s first “free-form” (shaped) self-adhesive stamps; Tonga had released self-adhesive stamps in mid-July 1963 but these were circular in shape. Many of the postal administrations present at the fair had special handstamped cachets they would apply to first day covers of their stamps when purchased at the national pavilions.
The United States Post Office Department released two postal items on April 22, 1964, opening day of the fair. Scott #1244 was a 5-cent blue green commemorative postage stamp designed by Robert J. Jones. The stamp portrays the fair’s main mall with the Unisphere to the left. This stamp was printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing by the rotary process and issued in panes of fifty stamps each. An initial printing of 130 million stamps was authorized with 145,700,000 ultimately released.
On the same day, an stamped envelope embossed with a 5-cent maroon indicia was released also portraying the Unisphere. Unfortunately, I don’t have any further information on the design or printing of this piece of postal stationery.
The Unisphere is a spherical stainless steel representation of the Earth, measuring 140 feet (43 m) high and 120 feet (37 m) in diameter. Commissioned to celebrate the beginning of the space age, the Unisphere was conceived and constructed as the theme symbol of the 1964–1965 New York World’s Fair. The theme of the World’s Fair was “Peace Through Understanding” and the Unisphere represented the theme of global interdependence. It was dedicated to “Man’s Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe”.
After World War II, Flushing Meadows–Corona Park reopened after having been closed for a long time, maintaining landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke’s site plan, as did the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, “Peace through Understanding.” Robert Moses was president of the World’s Fair Corporation, which leased the park from the city and issued $29.8 million in bonds. The Unisphere was initially conceptually designed by the landscape architect in aluminum with metallic mesh continents; it underwent a further refined industrial design in stainless steel by industrial designers at Peter Muller-Munk Associates, and with engineering and fabrication by American Bridge Company, a division of US Steel.
Built within 110 days, the Unisphere is the world’s largest globe. It measures 120 feet (37 m) in diameter, rises 140 feet (43 m), and weighs 700,000 pounds (317,515 kg), though some sources say the Unisphere weighs 900,000 pounds (408,233 kg), including its 100 short tons (91 t) inverted tripod base. The sphere is constructed of Type 304L stainless steel. The continents on the sphere are fabricated with a special texture-pattern by Rigidized Metals Corporation, based in Buffalo, New York. Developed for this architectural project, the pattern’s name of “1 UN” stands for “1 Unisphere.”
During the 1964 fair, dramatic lighting at night gave the effect of sunrise moving over the surface of the globe. Additionally, the capitals of nations were marked by lights. One of these lights is placed at the location of the Kahnawake Indian Reservation, which the Mohawk ironworkers requested to be placed there to honor their labor.
Built on the structural foundation that supported the Perisphere of the 1939 World’s Fair, the Unisphere is centered in a large, circular reflecting pool and is surrounded by a series of water-jet fountains. The 96 fountainheads arranged in pairs are designed to obscure its tripod pedestal. The effect is meant to make the Unisphere appear as if it is floating in space.
Three large orbit rings of stainless steel encircle the Unisphere at various angles. These orbit rings are believed to represent the tracks of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, and Telstar, the first active communications satellite. In fact, the early design was to have a ring for each of a dozen satellites in place at the time of the Fair. This proved impractical, not only in the number of satellites, but also in the height of their orbits and the fact that geostationary satellites had no orbit path. As a result, a symbolic number of three was chosen for aesthetic reasons.
In 1989, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation announced a multimillion-dollar rehabilitation of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Among the projects was a complete restoration of the Unisphere. Begun in late 1993 and completed on May 31, 1994, the project included numerous structural repairs and removal of years’ worth of grime accumulation on the steel. The fountains, shut off since the 1970s, were replaced, and new floodlighting installed. On May 10, 1995, the Unisphere was given official landmark status by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The Unisphere’s fountain reopened on August 12, 2010, after a $2 million restoration of its pumps, valves, and paintwork. The marshy soil of Flushing Meadows needed special consideration during the original 1937 Perisphere construction for the 1939-1940 World’s Fair. The Perisphere, and subsequently the Unisphere, which used the same platform, employed a foundation of 528 pressure-creosoted Douglas fir piles of 95 to 100 feet (29 to 30 m) in length. Before construction of the Unisphere, three piles were tested for structural integrity and all were found to be sound throughout their entire length.
The Unisphere was climbed in 1976 by George Willig (the so-called “Human Fly” who would later climb the World Trade Center), and Jerry Hewitt as part of a short film called The Third Stone, directed by NYU Film student, Paul Hornstein. Every year at least three people are taken to local hospitals for injuries from trying to climb the Unisphere.