I was reflecting recently on the demise of the world’s fair. World’s fairs were once held as regularly as the International Olympics and were looked forward to with the same anticipation.
The only world’s fair I ever attended was the one held in New York in 1964/1965. The site was Flushing Meadows, New York and it was one of the largest world’s fairs ever to be held in the United States. (The 1939 world’s fair was also held in New York).
The theme of the 1964/65 fair was "Peace Through Understanding", dedicated to "Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe". This was somewhat ironic since the fair was to come into conflict with the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), 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 order to make a profit, it was decided that the fair had to run two years). Because of this controversy, many European nations, Canada, Australia, and the Soviet Union did not have an exhibit at the fair.
Controversy aside, the fair was an incredible and most memorable experience. Just ask any baby boomer fortunate enough to be living in or visiting the New York area at the time. I was pretty young, but I have vivid memories of the fair. I confess, though, I had forgotten about several of the exhibits. Some things I remembered, some I had to be reminded of.
. The 12-story high, stainless-steel model of the earth called the Unisphere.
. Getting off the subway station and seeing the fair to the right and Shea Stadium to the left.
. My first taste of Belgium waffles.
. My first viewing of “La Pieta” (I saw this again years later when visiting the Vatican).
. The Clairol Pavillion: (one of my favorites) Women only were permitted in this exhibit. A round glass structure called the “Clairol Color Carousel” had 40 private booths which rotated on a slowly circling turntable. “During a six minute ride in one of the compartments, each of our visitors will be given a complete hair-coloring analysis. Special devices on the Carousel’s steps will show “the ladies” how they would look in various hair shades and styles”.
. "Dinoland", sponsored by Sinclair Oil, featured life-size replicas of nine different dinosaurs.
. Futurama: a show 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"
. IBM ran a program to 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.
The fair also is remembered as the venue Walt Disney used to design and perfect his system of "Audio-Animatronics", in which a combination of electromechanical actuators and computers controls the movement of lifelike robots to act out scenes. (From this came the idea for Ira Levin’s “Stepford Wives”.)
Some Disney exhibits:
. At the Illinois pavilion, a lifelike President Abraham Lincoln, recited his famous speeches in "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln".
. In "Pepsi Presents Walt Disney's 'It's a small world' - a Salute to UNICEF and the World's Children" at the Pepsi pavilion, animated dolls and animals frolicked in a spirit of international unity accompanying a boat ride around the world. The song was written by the Sherman Brothers.
(Both of these exhibits would eventually find their way to Disneyland).
So why no world’s fair any longer?
The world’s fair presented visions of the distant future: electronic gizmos and appliances that might some day become reality.
Nowadays, the speed at which one technology replaces another is so great that an exhibit would become obsolete before it opened.
Those who have visited the New York World’s Fair should consider themselves lucky to have done so.