How old were you when the World’s Fair of 1964/1965 came to New York? If you were born in the Boomer years, you were likely anywhere from 10 to 17 years old. Just 6 months earlier, America had been shaken to its roots by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, was sinking deeper into the Vietnam War, and sociocultural changes were just starting to explode throughout the country.
As such, the Fair tried to promote a vision of World Peace through man’s achievements rather than his misdeeds. It was to be a showcase for mid-20th century American culture and technological invention, aiming to promote peace on a “Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe” so its sub-theme stated. American businesses, however, dominated the exhibition that took place in Flushing, Queens New York as many European countries, Canada, Australia, Soviet Union, etc, did not participate. Unfortunately, the omission of these countries served to tarnish the Fair’s “Global Peace” theme. Yet, more than 51 million people attended the Fair from all over the world in those years.
Many of the exhibits seen at the Fair were innovations that have been further developed into technologies that we are using today. If you were lucky enough to have visited the World Fair of 1964/1965, you may remember seeing the futuristic prototypes of many items we take for granted in our daily lives in 2013:
Computers: Many Americans got their first look, and interaction, with computers at the Fair with IBM’s exhibit. Back then they were huge monoliths of data containers that took up almost an entire room in the back of an office.
Telephone modems: Promised to connect us with the world. Some 20 years later, the promise became reality with millions of people connecting over the internet. The Bell Systems Corporation (now divided into regional companies) presented the first “picture phone” which was a lot like Skype. They also presented a demonstration of how a computer modem works.
Cathode ray monitors: The Fair introduced dull black background with green, white print computer monitors that were thought cutting edge at the time – nothing like today’s liquid crystal display (LCD’s) and Cyber Touch interactive screens.
Space Age: The Fair was also a showcase for the Space Age promoting the booming programs of NASA’s space program. The first stages of the Saturn rocket, the Titan II booster, the Apollo command /service module, and the prototype for the Lunar Excursion Module were featured. Exhibits like “The Moon and Beyond” showed what it might be like to visit the Moon. Five years later in 1969 America would land the first manned space craft on the Moon. Later, futuristic defense missiles would be realized in the “Star Wars” program.
Future Homes: General Motors exhibited Progressland, which showcased what the house (and world) of the future would be like with technological advances in electricity. Frigidaire, a division of General Motors, showed Fairgoers what life (and kitchens) of the future would be like in their film “Out of This World”.
Architecture: Many futuristic building constructions and materials (fiberglass, plastic, stainless steel, concrete, etc) were demonstrated in the architecture of the different American business pavilions of the Fair. The theme of the Fair was characterized by a 12-story high “Unisphere” created out of stainless steel while the unique Seven-Up Tower was created from fiberglass. Corporations like IBM, Johnson Wax and General Electric demonstrated pavilions that were heavily influenced by “Googie” architecture – a futuristic design influenced by a combination of modern car and jet design, the Space Age, and the Atomic Age – all subjects displayed throughout the Fair. In contrast, many of the European pavilions demonstrated more traditional looks.
Arts: One of the more spectacular exhibits was the Vatican Pavilion where a replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta that was specially re-created for the Fair was shown. Many on-site theaters showcased independent films from around the world as well as the new 70 mm wide film. In music and entertainment, replicas of New Orleans jazz clubs, contemporary nightclubs/music featuring “go-go” dancers that were popular in those years, music from around the world, as well as Broadway were featured. Even Disney World, and its many entertainment facets, was represented.
Automotive: The Ford Motor Company showcased what would eventually become Detroit’s People Mover – the transport system of the future. General Motors presented both their “concept car” of the future and their prototype for the Corvette Stingray which spared no expense in creation. They also created the Futurama “ride” which took fairgoers on a tour of what the future might be like in moving chairs.