|1939 New York City|
|Category||Second category General Exposition|
|Name||New York World's Fair|
|Motto||The World of Tomorrow|
|Area||1,202 acres (486 hectares)|
|Organized by||Grover Whalen|
|City||New York City|
|Venue||Flushing Meadows–Corona Park|
|Opening||April 30, 1939|
|Closure||October 27, 1940|
|Previous||Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne in Paris|
|Next||Exposition internationale du bicentenaire de Port-au-Prince in Port-au-Prince|
|Previous||Second International Aeronautic Exhibition (1938) in Helsinki|
|Next||International Exhibition on Urbanism and Housing (1947) in Paris|
|Universal||Golden Gate International Exposition|
|Specialized||Exposition internationale de l'eau in Liège|
The 1939–40 New York World's Fair was a world's fair held at Flushing Meadows–Corona Park in Queens, New York, United States. It was the second-most expensive 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. It 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".
When World War II began four months into the 1939 World's Fair, many exhibits were affected, especially those on display in the pavilions of countries under Axis occupation. After the close of the fair in 1940, many exhibits were demolished or removed, though some buildings were retained for the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair, held at the same site.
In 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, a group of New York City businessmen decided to create an international exposition to help lift the city and the country out of its economic woes. 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, which elected former chief of police Grover Whalen as president, also 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 New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, 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. This event turned the area into a City park after the exposition closed.
Edward Bernays directed public relations of the fair in 1939, which he called "democracity." 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. "As events transpired," reported Carl Sagan, 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 the Fair took many forms. During the 1938 Major League Baseball season, the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and New York Yankees promoted the event by wearing patches on the left sleeve of their jerseys featuring the Trylon, Perisphere, and "1939." The same year, Howard Hughes flew a special World's Fair flight around the world to promote the fair.
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 for the opening to correspond to the 150th anniversary of George Washington's first inauguration as President of the United States, and WPA artists painted murals which appeared in The New York Times Magazine.
According to the official 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.
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, in Lower Manhattan, as the first President of the United States. Although many of the pavilions and other facilities were not quite ready for this opening, it was put on with pomp and great celebration.
Plans for the United States Navy Fleet to visit New York City for the opening of the fair following maneuvers in the Caribbean were canceled, however, due to aggressive moves being made by Japan in the South China Sea, and the fleet instead transferred to the Pacific via the Panama Canal in April.
David Sarnoff, then president of RCA and a strong advocate of television, chose to introduce television to the mass public at the RCA pavilion. As a reflection of the wide range of technological innovation on parade at the fair, Franklin D. Roosevelt's speech was not only broadcast over the various radio networks but also was televised along with other parts of the opening ceremony and other events at the fair. That day, the opening ceremony and President Roosevelt's speech were seen on black and white television sets with 5 to 12-inch tubes. 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 on about 200 television sets scattered throughout the New York metropolitan area.
In order to convince skeptical visitors that the television sets were not a trick, one set was made with a transparent case so that the internal components could be seen. As part of the exhibit at the RCA pavilion, visitors could see themselves on television. There were also television demonstrations at the General Electric and Westinghouse pavilions. During this formal introduction at the fair, television sets became available for public purchase at various stores in the New York City area.
After Albert Einstein gave a speech that discussed cosmic rays, the fair's lights were ceremonially lit. Dignitaries received a special Opening Day Program which contained their names written in Braille.
This 1940 general admission ticket also included visits to "5 concessions" (listed on backside)
Trylon and Perisphere on 1939 US stamp
One of the first exhibits to receive attention was the Westinghouse Time Capsule, which was not to be opened for 5 millennia (the year 6939). 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: (alfalfa, barley, carrots, corn, cotton, flax, oats, rice, soy beans, sugar beets, tobacco, and wheat, all sealed in glass tubes). The time capsule is located at , at a depth of 50 feet (15 m). A small stone plaque marks the position. Westinghouse also featured "Elektro the Moto-Man": the 7-foot (2.1 m) tall robot that talked, differentiated colors, and even "smoked" cigarettes.
On July 3, 1940, the fair hosted "Superman Day". Notable was the crowning of the "Super-Boy and Super-Girl of the Day" following an athletic contest, and a public appearance by Superman, played by an unidentified man. Broadway actor Ray Middleton, who served as a judge for the contest, is often credited with having appeared in the Superman costume on Superman Day, but he did not; however, he may have played Superman during a live radio broadcast from the scene. Although the unknown man in the costume is often said to have been the first actor ever to play Superman, Bud Collyer had been performing the role on the Superman radio series since the preceding February.
Ralph Vaughan Williams composed his work for harp and string orchestra Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus on commission from the World's Fair. The first performance was at Carnegie Hall in June 1939, conducted by Adrian Boult. In addition, the British Council commissioned a piano concerto from Arthur Bliss for the British Week at the World's Fair. Adrian Boult conducted the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall on June 10, 1939, with Solomon as the soloist.
Ceramic sculptor Waylande Gregory created The Fountain of the Atom, which displayed the largest ceramic sculptures in modern times. It included the four Elements, each measuring 72 inches (180 cm) high and each weighing over a ton. There were also eight electrons, which were illustrated in Life Magazine (March 1939). Gregory also created two exhibitions featuring his ceramic sculptures for the General Motors Building, American Imports and American Exports.
Nylon fabric, the View-Master, and Scentovision (an early version of Smell-O-Vision) were introduced at the Fair. Other exhibits included Vermeer's painting The Milkmaid from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, a streamlined pencil sharpener, a diner (still in operation as the White Mana in Jersey City, New Jersey), a futuristic car-based city by General Motors, the first fully constructed computer game, and early 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.
The fair was divided into seven geographic or thematic zones, five of which had "Focal Exhibits", as well as two Focal Exhibits housed in their own buildings.: 46–47 Virtually every structure erected on the fairgrounds was architecturally distinguished, and many of them were experimental in many ways. Architects were encouraged by their corporate or government sponsors to be creative, energetic and innovative. Novel building designs, materials and furnishings were the norm. Many of the zones were arranged in a semicircular pattern, centered on the Wallace Harrison and Max Abramovitz-designed Theme Center, which consisted of two all-white, landmark monumental buildings named the Trylon (over 700 feet (210 m) tall) and the Perisphere which one entered by a moving stairway and exited via a grand curved walkway named the "Helicline". Inside the Perisphere was a "model city of tomorrow that visitors" viewed from a moving walkway high above the floor level. The zones were distinguished by many color cues, including different wall colors and tints and differently colored lighting.
The showcases were not only intended to get people to buy the sponsor's products, they were also intended to educate and inform the populace about basic materials and processes that were then very new and not well known. Many experimental product concepts and new materials were shown that were not currently available for purchase but became available in various ways over the next few years. In many ways, the fair pavilions more resembled a modern-day government-sponsored science fair exhibit than they resembled modern corporate advertising and sales promotions.
Fairgoers walking to the north of the Theme Center on the Avenue of Patriots would encounter the Communications and Business Systems exhibits. The focal point of this area was the Communications Building, a large structure with a pair of 160-foot-high (49 m) pylons flanking it.: 73 : 39
At the AT&T Pavilion the Voder, a mechanized, synthetic voice, spoke to attendees, foretelling the widespread use of electronic voices decades later.: 77 The Business Systems and Insurance Building, an L-shaped structure, housed numerous companies such as Aetna, MetLife, and IBM. In particular, the IBM pavilion displayed electric typewriters and an "electric calculator" that used punched cards.: 79
Next door to these business exhibits, on the "Street of Wheels", was the "Masterpieces of Art" building housing 300 priceless works of the Old Masters, from the Middle Ages to 1800. Whalen and his team were able to borrow paintings and sculptures from Europe. Thirty five-galleries featured great works from DaVinci and Michelangelo to Rembrandt, from Hals to Caravaggio and Bellini.: 81–82
The Community Interest Zone was located just east of the Communications & Business Systems Zone.: 79 The region's exhibits showcased several trades or industries that were popular among the public at the time. It included buildings dedicated to home furnishings, plumbing, contemporary art, cosmetics, gardens, the gas industry, fashion, jewelry, and religion. Organizations such as the American Standard Companies, Christian Science, Johns Manville, Works Progress Administration, and YMCA also had buildings in the Community Interest Zone.: 85–101 In addition, there was also the "Electrified Farm", a working farm,: 91 and the Town of Tomorrow, which included 15 "demonstration homes" on a bowling green adjacent to the World's Fair station of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company.: 100
The Government Zone was located at the east end of the fair, on the eastern bank of the Flushing River. It contained 21 pavilions, several smaller buildings, a centrally located Court of Peace, a Lagoon of Nations, and a smaller Court of States. The 60 foreign governments contributed a wide diversity of creatively designed pavilions housing a myriad of cultural offerings to fairgoers.: 116–117 : 55
The Pavilion of Great Britain and the British Colonial Empire consisted of two buildings with a first-floor connection. The copy of Magna Carta belonging to Lincoln Cathedral also left Britain in 1939 for the first time to be in the British Pavilion at the fair.: 129 Within months Britain joined World War II and it was deemed safer for it to remain in America until the end of hostilities. It therefore remained in Fort Knox, next to the original copy of the American constitution, until 1947. The pavilion included a collection of stamps celebrating Rowland Hill, and the 100th anniversary of the postage stamp. One of the stamps was the British Guiana 1c magenta.
The French pavilion, on the Court of Peace that was the grand open space northeast of the Theme Center, was a two-story structure whose facade featured enormous windows with "majestic curves".: 127–128 Its restaurant was so celebrated that after the fair closed and World War II ended, the restaurant remained in New York City as one of the city's finest French dining establishments: Le Pavillon.
The Greek pavilion was in the Hall of Nations and was a mirror of how the Metaxas quasi-fascist regime wanted to show Greece to the world.: 130 The interior rooms were designed by Nelly, the famous Greek photographer. Nelly's collages expressed four aspects of Greece: the legacy of ancient Greece, the Christian spirituality, picturesque landscapes and the Greek racial continuity. On one of its outside walls there were four big murals featuring four historic episodes of Greek history, authored by Gerasimos Steris. After the Fair concluded, the pavilion was dismantled and parts of it were donated for the construction of the Greek Orthodox cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
The Italian pavilion attempted to fuse ancient Roman splendor with modern styles, and a 200-foot (61 m) high waterfall dedicated to Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the radio defined the pavilion's facade. The pavilion occupied 100,000 square feet of space on plot GJ-1 at Presidential Row North and Continental Avenue and cost more than $3 million.: 197 Italy paid for the right to use another ten thousand feet of space in the fair's Hall of Nations. There, the mosaic floor was to be graced by a high pillar upon which rested the ubiquitous She-Wolf, mother of Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome. Above Nino Giordano's Capitoline She-Wolf extended the lines of a Roman triumphal arch. The long side walls, adorned with emblems of ancient and modern Rome and maps of its new colonial 'empire' were divided into three sections by columns with rostra rising on a plinth of black marble and accentuated by Roman stucco of a velvety-white color. These walls sheltered Romano Romanelli's bronze statue of Mussolini which stood tall upon a black marble pedestal in the very center of the room.: 198
The pavilion's popular restaurant was designed in the shape of the nation's luxury cruise line ships.: 133, 135
The Japanese pavilion was designed by the Japanese-American architect Yasuo Matsui to resemble a traditional Shinto shrine, set within a Japanese garden. It offered tea ceremony and Japanese flower arrangement exhibits.: 135–136 The interior had a "Diplomat room", which featured a reproduction of the Liberty Bell made out of Japanese pearls and diamonds, worth $1 million. This room also featured a photomontage mural across which was written the motto "Dedicated to Eternal Peace and Friendship between America and Japan".
The Jewish Palestine Pavilion introduced the world to the concept of a modern Jewish state, which a decade later became Israel. The pavilion featured a monumental hammered copper relief sculpture on its facade titled The Scholar, The Laborer, and the Toiler of the Soil by the noted Art Deco sculptor Maurice Ascalon.: 136
This exhibit presented a comprehensive survey of the cultural importance of the three parts of the empire: the Kingdom of Europe, the Dutch East Indies and the territories of Suriname and Curaçao in South America.
The 21 countries of the Pan-American Union, as well as several communications companies, were represented in the Pan American Union Pavilion. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, and Nicaragua were among the cooperating countries.: 141
The Good Neighbor policy at the 1939 World's Fair was an extension of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Good Neighbor policy, which sought to redefine negative Latin American stereotypes. Each country seized the opportunity to showcase their country and to make it more appealing to those around the world, especially in the United States. In their bid to increase cultural awareness at the World's Fair, the countries promoted tourism and strove to compare itself to the United States in an effort to appeal to Americans.
The Polish Pavilion was composed of a boxy tower. The Second Polish Republic prepared some 200 tons of artifacts, including a royal carpet of King Casimir IV, seven paintings presenting important events of Polish history, 150 contemporary Polish paintings, a gunmetal monument of Józef Piłsudski, armor of a Polish hussar from Kórnik Castle, ancient Polish weaponry (14th–18th centuries), a bell manufactured for the purpose of the Fair, folk costumes, house furniture from different regions of Poland, and over 200 examples of Polish inventions.: 143
The USSR (Soviet) Pavilion was a semicircular structure with two wings partially enclosing a courtyard.: 148 Exhibitions included the life-size copy of the interior of the showcase Mayakovskaya station of the Moscow Metro, whose designer Alexey Dushkin was awarded Grand Prize of the 1939 World's Fair. The USSR Pavilion's courtyard contained a statue on a pylon, which was 260 feet (79 m) tall. The pavilion was only open for 1939 and was razed at the end of that year.
The United States Federal Building's main building was set between two 150-foot (46 m) pylons. The Federal Building and several surrounding structures contained a combined 23 exhibits, dedicated to 22 states and Puerto Rico.: 151
Southwest of the Government Zone was the Food Zone, composed of 13 buildings in total (excluding the Turkey and Sweden exhibits, which were physically located within the Food Zone but considered part of the Government Zone). Its Focal Exhibit was Food No. 3, a rhomboidal structure with four shafts representing wheat stalks.: 102–103 : 45
Among the many unique exhibits was the Borden's exhibit, that featured 150 pedigreed cows (including the original Elsie) on a Rotolactor that allowed bathing them, drying them, and milking them in a highly mechanized way. While no such complete system ever became common in milk production, many of its features came into everyday use in today's rotary milking parlors.: 105, 107 Next door was the Continental Baking building, presenting a vast, continuous process of baking breads and other products, and was fashioned in the shape of a huge packaged bread loaf.: 109
The Production and Distribution Zone was dedicated to showcasing industries that specialized in manufacturing and distribution.: 175 : 87 The focal exhibit was the Consumers Building, a L-shaped structure occupying a triangular plot on the Avenue of Pioneers, illustrated with murals by Francis Scott Bradford.: 175–178 Numerous individual companies hosted exhibitions in this region. There were also pavilions dedicated to a generic industry, such as electrical products, industrial science, pharmaceuticals, metals, and men's apparel.: 176–195
The Transportation Zone was located west of the Theme Center, across the Grand Central Parkway.: 25 Perhaps the most popular of the Transportation Zone pavilions was the one built for General Motors (GM), which contained the 36,000-square-foot (3,300 m2) Futurama exhibit, designed by famed industrial designer and theater set designer Norman Bel Geddes, which transported fair visitors over a huge diorama of a fictional section of the United States with miniature figures. Along the way, visitors would encounter increasingly larger figures until they exited into a representation of a life-size city intersection. Stores in the GM Pavilion included an auto dealership and an appliance store where visitors could see the latest GM and Frigidaire products.: 207–209
Adjacent to the GM Pavilion was the Ford Pavilion, where race car drivers drove on a figure eight track on the building's roof endlessly, day in and day out.: 205, 207 Not far from GM and Ford was the focal exhibit of the Transportation Zone, a Chrysler exhibit group. In the focal exhibit, an audience could watch a Plymouth being assembled in an early 3D film in a theater with air conditioning, then a new technology.: 199–201 Other structures included an aviation and marine transport building, as well as exhibits for the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and Goodrich Corporation.: 202, 204–205, 208–209
Another large building was the Eastern Railroads Presidents' Conference, dedicated to rail transport.: 202–204 The centerpiece of the Railroad Conference exhibits (on seventeen acres) was "Railroads on Parade", a spectacular live drama re-enacting the birth and growth of railroads. It had music by Kurt Weil and choreography by Bill Matons. In addition to the show, there were important historical objects on display by the various railroads and manufacturing companies, such as the Tom Thumb engine. The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) had its S1 engine on display, mounted on rollers under the driver wheels and running continuously at 60 mph (97 km/h) all day long. The British London Midland & Scottish Railway sent their Coronation Scot express train with a locomotive LMS Princess Coronation Class 6229 Duchess of Hamilton, (disguised as sister locomotive 6220 Coronation), to the fair. GM's Electro-Motive Division had a display of their then new streamlined diesel-electric passenger locomotives. The Italian state railways displayed one of their record-setting ETR 200 electric multiple unit cars.
Beyond the corporate and government zones, the wildly popular but less uplifting Amusements Area was not integrated into the thematic matrix, and was classified as an Area rather than a Zone. It was located south of the World's Fair Boulevard, along 230 acres (93 ha) on the east shore of Fountain Lake.: 49 Despite the high-minded educational tone that Grover Whalen attempted to set, the Amusements Area was the most popular part of the Fair. The attractions included a roller coaster,: 57 a Flying Turns-style bobsled,: 53 a Life Savers-branded parachute tower called the Parachute Jump: 57  (later moved to Coney Island, where it is standing but not operating), the 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge Gimbels Flyer train ride,: 55 (later purchased by Kennywood, where it still runs today), and carnival acts such as a "Little Miracle Town" with dwarves.: 60 Other attractions included a "winter wonderland" called Sun Valley, a Theatre of Time and Space,: 66 and a replica of Victoria Falls.: 69–70
Frank Buck exhibited his "Frank Buck's Jungleland", which displayed rare birds, reptiles and wild animals along with Jiggs, a five-year-old trained orangutan.: 57 In addition, Buck provided a trio of performing elephants, an 80-foot (24 m) "monkey mountain" with 600 monkeys, and an attraction that had been popular at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair: camel rides. A number of the shows provided spectators with the opportunity of viewing women in very revealing costumes or topless, such as the "Frozen Alive Girl", the Living Pictures, and the Dream of Venus building. This last attraction was a pavilion designed by the Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí which contained within it a number of unusual sculptures and statues as well as live nearly-nude performers posing as statues. While there were a number of protests by prominent politicians over the course of the fair about the "low minded entertainment", and the New York Vice Squad raided shows in the area on several occasions, the public generally accepted this form of entertainment.
The Bendix Lama Temple was a 28,000-piece full-sized replica of the 1767 Potala temple in Jehol, Manchuria, commissioned and brought back by the industrialist and explorer Vincent Bendix. The Temple had previously been exhibited at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, called "Century of Progress". In New York, the Temple contained a girlie show.
Billy Rose's Aquacade was a spectacular musical and water extravaganza foreshadowing the form of many popular Hollywood musicals in the ensuing years. The show was presented in a special amphitheater seating 10,000 people and included an orchestra to accompany the spectacular synchronised swimming performance. It featured Johnny Weissmuller and Eleanor Holm, two of the most celebrated swimmers of the era, and dazzled fairgoers with its lighting and cascades and curtains of water, pumped in waterfalls at 8,000 gallons a minute. The cost of admission was 80 cents.: 52
The Aquacade facility itself served as an entertainment venue in the park for many years afterward, including the 1964–65 World's Fair, but fell into disrepair in the 1980s and was finally demolished in 1996.
There were two focal exhibits that were not located within any of the 1939 Fair's "zones". The first was Medical and Public Health Building, which was located on Constitution Mall and the Avenue of Patriots (immediately northeast of the Theme Center). This structure contained a massive "Hall of Man" dedicated to the human body, and a "Hall of Medical Science" dedicated to medical professions and devices.: 168–173
The other was the Science and Education Building, located on a curved portion of Hamilton Place between the Avenue of Patriots and Washington Square, just north of the Medical and Public Health Building. The building was not used to teach science, but it contained an auditorium and several exhibits on science and education.: 196–197
The colors blue and orange were chosen as the official colors of the fair, as they were the colors of New York City, and featured prominently. Only the Trylon and Perisphere were all white; avenues stretching out into the zones from the Theme Center were designed with rich colors that changed the further one walked from the center of the grounds. For example, the exhibits and other facilities along the Avenue of Pioneers were in a progression of blues, starting with pale tints and ending in deep ultramarine.
Outdoor public lighting was at the time of a very limited and pedestrian nature, perhaps consisting of simple incandescent pole lamps in a city and nothing in the country. Electrification was still relatively new and had not reached everywhere in the US. The fair was the first public demonstration of several lighting technologies that became common in the following decades. These technologies included the introduction of the first fluorescent light and fixture. General Electric Corporation held the patent to the fluorescent light bulb at the time. Approximately a year later, the original three major corporations, Lightolier, Artcraft Fluorescent Lighting Corporation, and Globe Lighting, located mostly in the New York City region, began wide-scale manufacturing in the US of the fluorescent light fixture.
Another theme of the fair was the emerging new middle class, leading a hoped-for recovery from the Great Depression. The fair promoted the "Middleton Family"—Babs, Bud, and their parents—who appeared in ads showing them taking in the sights of the fair and the new products being manufactured to make life easier and affordable, such as the new automatic dishwasher.
Each day at the fair was a special theme day,: 215–219 for which a special button was issued; for example, May 18, 1939, was "Asbury Park, New Jersey Day". Some of these buttons are very rare and all are considered collectibles.
In 1940, the theme of the fair was changed to "For Peace and Freedom" as war in Europe escalated. One poster from that year's fair, issued by Borden's Milk, had Elsie the Cow proclaiming "makes you proud to be an American".
A special subway line, the Independent Subway System (IND) World's Fair Line, was built to serve the fair. World's Fair (now Mets–Willets Point) station on the IRT Flushing Line was rebuilt to handle fair traffic on the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) and Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT) systems. A Long Island Rail Road station (now Mets–Willets Point) was built next to the Flushing Line station. The IND extension departed the IND Queens Boulevard Line east of the Forest Hills–71st Avenue station and before the 75th Avenue station. The World's Fair station was at the east side of the Meadowlands at Horace Harding Boulevard. The period system route map and Fair maps display this temporary extension. The World's Fair station was a terminus of the G train (alternate E trains also ran to World's Fair Station), and ran at ground level, separated from the Fair grounds by a fence, past the Jamaica Yard, which is still in use.
For the 1939–40 Fair, a special fleet of 50 "World's Fair Steinway" cars were delivered in late 1938 by the St. Louis Car Company for Flushing Line service. Car #5655 survives in the New York Transit Museum fleet.
The fair was open for two seasons, from April to October each year, and was officially closed permanently on October 27, 1940. To get the fair's budget overruns under control before the 1940 season and to augment gate revenues, Whalen was replaced by banker Harvey Gibson. In addition, much greater emphasis was placed on the amusement features and less on the educational and uplifting exhibits. The great fair 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 a financial failure, and the corporation declared bankruptcy.
Many of the rides from the World's Fair were sold after its closure to Luna Park at Coney Island, which was allowed to call itself the New York World's Fair of 1941. The Life Savers Parachute Jump was sold that same year and relocated to Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, where it was renamed the "Parachute Jump".
Although the United States did not enter World War II until the end of 1941, the fairgrounds served as a window into the troubles overseas. The pavilions of Poland and Czechoslovakia, for example, did not reopen for the 1940 season. Also on July 4 that same year, two New York City Police Department officers were killed by a blast while investigating a time bomb left at the British Pavilion. The bombing has never been solved, but there is evidence that bombing was an inside job by William Stephenson, a British agent based in New York.
Countries under the thumb of the Axis powers in Europe in 1940 like Poland, Czechoslovakia, and France ran their pavilions with a special nationalistic pride. The only major world power that did not participate for the 1939 season was Germany, citing budget pressures. The USSR Pavilion was dismantled after the first season, leaving an empty lot called "The American Commons". When the fair closed, many among the European staff were unable to return to their home countries, so they remained in the US and in some cases exercised a tremendous influence on American culture. For example, Henri Soulé moved from the French Pavilion at the fair to open Le Pavillon restaurant, retaining Pierre Franey as head chef.
World War II presented additional problems with what to do with the exhibits on display in the pavilions of countries under Axis occupation. In the case of the Polish Pavilion, most of the items were sold by the Polish Government in exile in London to the Polish Museum of America and shipped to Chicago. A notable exception was made for a monument of the Polish–Lithuanian King Jagiełło to which Mayor Fiorello La Guardia took such a liking that he helped spearhead a campaign to have it installed in Central Park, where it still stands today.
Another building saved from 1940 was the Belgian Building designed by Henry Van de Velde. It was awarded to Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia, and shipped to Richmond in 1941. The school still uses the building for its home basketball games.
After the Fair, the Temple was again disassembled, and placed in storage for many years. There were proposals to erect it at Oberlin College, Harvard University, Indiana University, and elsewhere, but they all failed for lack of funding. In 1984, the approximately 28,000 pieces were shipped to the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm, Sweden, with plans to rebuild it in a nearby park, but objections from the neighboring Chinese Embassy have stalled the project indefinitely.
Some of the buildings from the 1939 fair were used for the first temporary headquarters of the United Nations from 1946 until it moved in 1951 to its permanent headquarters in Manhattan. The former New York City Building was used for the UN General Assembly during that time. This building was later refurbished for the 1964 fair as the New York City Pavilion, featuring the Panorama of the City of New York, an enormous scale model of the entire city. It became the home of the Queens Center for Art and Culture (later renamed the Queens Museum of Art, and now called the Queens Museum), which still houses and occasionally updates the Panorama.
One other structure from the 1939–40 Fair remains in original location: the New York City Subway's Mets–Willets Point station, rebuilt for the Fair. It also served the 1964–65 events and continues to serve New York Mets games and US Open Tennis.
The 1939 World's Fair made a strong impression on attendees and influenced a generation of Americans. Later generations have attempted to recapture the impression it made in fictional and artistic treatments.
An archive of documents and films from the 1939 New York World's Fair is maintained at the New York Public Library (NYPL). This collection of official corporate records from the fair is one of the richest and most heavily used collections at NYPL. Extensive highlights from the collection can be viewed online, or via an award-winning free iPad app.
In October 2010, the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. opened an exhibition titled Designing Tomorrow: America's World's Fairs of the 1930s. This exhibition, which was available for view until September 2011, prominently featured the 1939 New York World's Fair.
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