1939 New York World's Fair

The 1939 New York World's Fair was one of the largest world's fairs of all time. Many different countries around the world participated in it, and over 25 million people attended its exhibits. The NYWF of 1939 allowed all visitors to take a look at "The world of tomorrow."

In 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, a group of New York City businessmen 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 Grover Whalen as the president of their committee. The whole committee consisted of Winthrop Aldrich, Mortimer Buckner, Floyd Carlisle, John J. Dunnigan, Harvey Dow Gibson, 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. Countries around the world took part in creating the biggest international event since World War I. Finally, on April 30, 1939, the fair had its grand opening. Roughly 198,791 people attended. One of the most famous exhibits was a time capsule, which was not to be opened till 6939 A.D. The time capsule was a tube containing writings by Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann, copies of Life Magazine, a kewpie doll, a dollar in change, a pack of Camel cigarettes, millions of pages of text on microfilm, and much, much more. Several other exhibits included the Chrysler Air-flow, a streamlined pencil sharpener, and one of the first televisions. There was also a huge globe/planetarium located near the center of the fair. Bell Labs' Voder, a keyboard-operated speech synthesizer, was demonstrated at the Fair.

Each day after that, the fair opened at 9 AM until it was officially closed forever on October 27, 1940. It attracted over 45 million visitors and generated roughly $48 million in revenue. Since the Fair Corporation had invested 67 million dollars (in addition to nearly a hundred million dollars from other sources), it was, in fact, an economic failure, and the corporation declared bankruptcy.

The Fair was themed. It was divided into different "zones" (a Transportation Zone, a Communications Zone, and so forth). The wildly popular but less uplifting Amusements Area was not integrated into the thematic matrix, and was a mere Area rather than a Zone. The zones were distinguished by many subtle cues, including differently colored lighting. The "Theme Center" consisted of two landmark monumental buildings named the Trylon and Perisphere. The design of Disneyland, with its themed Frontierland, Tomorrowland and central Cinderella's Castle clearly owes something to the 1939 World's Fair. The resemblance of Walt Disney World's Epcot Center to the Fair is even closer, and was widely noted by architectural writers when it opened. Epcot's geodesic-sphere "Spaceship Earth" bears a distinct family resemblance to the Perisphere.

Despite the high-minded educational tone that Grover Whalen attempted to set, the "Amusements Area" was the most popular part of the Fair and included roller coaster, a parachute jump, and carnival acts such as a collection of performing midgets. Many of the shows provided spectators with the opportunity of viewing women in revealing costumes: the Frozen Alive Girl, the Dream of Venus Building, and, above all, Billy Rose's Aquacade.


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