World's Fair 1939 presented vision of 'World of Tomorrow,' with ominous signs of impending war
Those lucky enough to attend the World's Fairs in '39 and '64 say the earlier event was more memorable, since it gave a very real impression of what lay ahead in a world torn apart by conflict.
The 1939 World’s Fair's 700-foot Trylon obelisk and 18-story Perisphere were given over to the war effort after the fair.
BY TOBIAS SALINGER NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
April 17, 2014
The 1939 World’s Fair, which played out over 18 months on the former site of the Corona dumps, symbolized the new age that would rise from the Great Depression, an idea embodied by the fair’s iconic 700-foot Trylon obelisk and 18-story Perisphere structure.
The fair, which celebrates its 75th anniversary on April 30 — introduced the world to a host of futuristic inventions including television, the superhighway and even the fax machine.
But by the time the fair closed, in October 1940, the 40 million tons of steel from the Trylon and Perisphere would have to be given over to the war effort.
More than 44 million visitors flocked to the 1,200-acre site that living witnesses and souvenir collectors still recall with awe today.
As the Nazis began their spread across Europe, the war vied for headlines with frequent police raids on the fair’s nudie shows and a July 4, 1940, bombing that killed two city detectives.
Critics assailed the New York World’s Fair Corp. for the event’s high cost, but the 1939 fair could well be remembered long after the more widely celebrated 1964 Fair fades from consciousness.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
The 1939 event had plenty of spectacle, like these elephants.
“Historically, the 1939 fair was more famous,” said Pierre Montiel, a historian and lecturer who will present a collection of photos of the ’39 fair at the Queens Historical Society on June 22. “It’s historic because it was the turning point of the 20th century.”
The fair became the bailiwick of publicity hound Grover Whalen, the president of the fair corporation, and city parks overlord Robert Moses.
The two pitched it as a fulcrum to help lift the city out of its economic doldrums and clean up a notorious dump strewn with stinking piles of garbage as tall as 15 stories high, said James Mauro, author of the 2010 book, “Twilight at the World of Tomorrow.”
Mauro estimates the fair’s $160 million cost translates to $2.3 billion today, a princely sum that city leaders never could have afforded on their own.
“The thinking was that if you had a world’s fair, you’d get state money and federal money to pay for it,” said Mauro. “And that’s when people really came around to it.”
The fair opened with a speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which NBC teamed with RCA to beam across the city in the first large-scale display of television.
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