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New York 1939-40 World's Fair

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Quick List Info

Interior New York World's Fair 1939 Poster

Dates Open - 1939 Season: April 30 - October 31, 1939. Open 185 days. Open Sundays.

1940 Season: May 11 to October 27, 1940. Open 170 days. Open Sundays.

Attendance - 1939 season, Total (with passes, staff, etc.) 32,786,521. Paid 25,817,265.

1940 Season, Total 24,401,314 (Paid plus passes). 19,138,732 Paid.

International Participants - 1939 - 52 nations and 11 colonies. 1940 - 44 nations and 3 colonies. (Unverified)

Total Cost - $67,010,989.76 (both years for the Expo Authority). Estimated total cost, including participants, was $160 million. World's Fair had a loss of $18 million.

Site Acreage - 1216.5 acres in Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York City. Currently the site of Flushing Meadows Park, the Queens Museum, and the United States Tennis Center, among other attractions.

Sanction and Type - Bureau of International Exhibitions Sanctioned Fair in 1939. Registered with the B.I.E. on 5-4-1937 as a general exposition of the 2nd category. Would be considered a Universal style Registered event today like those on the 0 years of the decade are considered. Due to war in 1940, the B.I.E. released its members from all treaty obligations and took no action on the request to the bureau from the New York Fair Authority for a second year.

In both years, the federal government of the United States made an appropriation and sent foreign invitations. Decision to hold the fair for a second year was made in the summer of 1939. It was announced by President Roosevelt on September 8 with the board approving on September 26, 1939.

Ticket Cost - In 1939, the full price Adult ticket was 75 cents, children 3-14, 25 cents (10 cents one day per week). A book of twenty tickets was $2.00 for children. A season pass for Adults, $15, children $5. In 1940, the per day Adult admission was reduced to 50 cents.

Photo top center: Incline view of the Trylon and Perisphere, 1939, Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc. Courtesy Library of Congress. Column Top: 1939 New York World's Fair Poster, 1939, New York World's Fair Authority, Courtesy Pinterest. Bottom: Night view of the Trylon and Perisphere, 1939, New York Daily News, Courtesy Pinterest.

New York World's Fair 1939

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History of the Event

New York World's Fair 1939-40

It was a massive undertaking and a massive fair. Over one thousand acres of reclaimed dump in Flushing made famous by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Great Gatsby was transformed into a futuristic wonderland meant to amaze the public back into feeling optimist about the United States and their future after the Great Depression. But the harbingers of war were on the horizon through the years of planning. The tension seen at the Paris Expo of 1937 would translate into uncertainty in New York, despite the absence of Germany as an official participant. Japan, Italy, and the Soviet Union did come. By September of the first season, Germany had invaded Poland with Russia as an ally. Soon, the flags of the French and Polish exhibits would be draped in black and the notice on the Czechoslovakia pavilion apologized for their unfinished pavilion due to the Nazi invasion.

But the fair mashalled on into a second year amidst conflict in Europe and the Pacific. Despite that, the fair accomplished many of its goals. It is said that optimism soared amongst those who made their way into the Trylon and Perisphere theme exhibits, foreshadowing progress beyond most imaginations. They saw the cities of tomorrow in Democracity and the highways of the future that would span a nation. Of course, those highways would have to wait until after the United States joined their brethren after Pearl Harbor's attack in 1941 and dispensed the German, Japanese, and Italian empires and their expansive tendencies.

Above photo. Theme center of the fair at night. Below: Florida Pavilion. Photos by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., 1939, courtesy Library of Congress.

Florida Pavilion, New York 1939
Television was demonstrated for the first time. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first President to appear on the small screen, broadcasting from the fair in 1939 to an audience of several hundred. It also introduced to the world tape recorders, nylon, and plastics.

There were ten entrances from a parking lot that held 575 buses and 35,000 cars, and the depots of the railroad and other transportation from throughout the city and region. Transportation within the ground included Greyhound buses (100) for 10 cents per ride; Tractor Trains, 25 cents adult, 15 cents children under 12; Motor and hand operated chairs (operated by American Express), "motoguide chairs, 3 persons, $1 1st 15 minutes, .75 each after. "Guide chairs", 1 person, 50c 1st 15 min., .25 each after. 2 person, .75, .50. There were fifty thousand benches on site.

Site was the original Corona Dumps, a marshy tract transformed into the fairgrounds. New York City bought for the land for $7 million, designated it as Flushing Meadow Park, and leased the ground to the Fair Corporation. Ground breaking ceremonies commenced on June 29, 1936. The Reclamation project knocked down ash mountains and filled in bogs, created Fountain Lake, and was completed in March 1937. It cost $12 million for reclamation and underground site improvements.

There were seven fair zones: Amusement Zone - 280 acres, Communications and Business Systems Zone, Community Interests Zone, Food Zone, Government Zone, Production and Distribution Zone, plus the Transportation Zone.

The government zone not only included the invited nations, but the Court of States as well. Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticutt, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. The states of New York and Florida were located in the Amusement Zone.

It was amazing that the fair had as much success as it did, despite the loss of $18 million due to the outbreak of war, competition from the San Francisco World's Fair both years, and criticism that the first year daily Adult price of 75 cents was too high, causing lower attendance. In many ways, it exceeded expectations. For decades, the fair would be the backbone of a more optimist view in the public sphere, buoyed by eventual success overseas, and the progress that would ensue in coming decades. It would become the subject of books. The New York World's Fair of 1939-40 would even be eventually succeeded by another fair in 1964-65 on the same site. Remnants of that fair, including the Unisphere, can be scene in Flushing Meadows Park to this day.

Historian's Perspective

Leonard Levitan - "The most extraordinary example of this category is the work of Grover Whalen at the 1939/40 NY World's Fair. It was a great fair, but without him, it would have been half as popular. Besides bringing in 60 international participants on the eve of World War II, including Stalin's Russia and Mussolini's Italy, he was a master at getting free publicity. Before the era of instantaneous communications we have today, he was able to attract 731 radio programs that reached 19,171 radio stations across America; over 25,000 meters of newspaper coverage and 160 special edition magazines in the first 2 1/2 months! He added to this by establishing the fair's own newsreel and film department for distribution to movie theaters around the world. He also developed the "news kit" to new heights. He is considered the father of today's high powered public relations field. In 1940 funds were low and World War II had started closing several pavilions. It was not the same."

B.I.E. Sanctioned

Poster of the New York World's Fair 1939-40

International Participants
Nations and Colonies

Albania, Argentina (Pan Am Union), Australia, Belgium, Bolivia (Pan Am Union), Brazil (Pan Am Union), Canada, Chile (Pan Am Union), Colombia (Pan Am Union), Cuba (Pan Am Union), Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Dominican Republic (Pan Am Union), Ecuador (Pan Am Union), Egypt, Finland, France, Great Britain, Greece, Guatemala (Pan Am Union), Haiti (Pan Am Union), Honduras (Pan Am Union), Hungary, Iceland, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Japan, League of Nations, Lebanon (COLONY), Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico (Pan Am Union), Netherlands New Zealand, Nicaragua (Pan Am Union), Norway, Pan-American Union, Paraguay (PAU), Persia, Peru, (PAU), Poland, Portugal, Romania, Siam, Southern Rhodesia (COLONY), Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, USSR, Uruguay (PAU), Venezuela (PAU), Yugoslavia, Official morning calls included Jewish Palestine.

Other Nations/Colonies Listed as Participants in Various Sources: French Morocco (COLONY), Costa Rica, Paraguay, Belgian Congo (COLONY), Dutch Overseas Possessions (COLONY), Great Britain Colonial Empire - 6 groups, East Africa, West Africa, Malaya and the Far East, West Indian (India) and Atlantic Department, Mediterranean Island Department, Ceylon Aden Mauritius Seychelles COLONY (S). Note: It is sometimes difficult to tell whether certain nations actually participated in a significant way. Newspaper reports as well as the official guidebook may indicate participation when actual participation did not occur, or occurred minimally. Take the above as a guide, not gospel.

In 1940, some nations pulled out, and a few were added. The New York Times on February 27 stated that Albania, Argentina, Chile, Denmark, Netherlands, Netherlands, India, Norway, Southern Rhodesia, USSR, Sweden, Yugoslavia were officially withdrawing. Spain and El Salvador were committed to coming in 1940 for the first time. Lithuania was listed as likely withdrawing, but later listed in the New York World's Fair United States Report. Several nations no longer participated officially, but did so privately.

Expo Tidbits
British pavilion was the largest ever constructed by Britain for a foreign exhibition. It held 13,000 people at one time. The total space was 95,000 square feet.

The Economic benefits and stimulus estimated to be $1 billion from hosting the fair.

Fair celebrated the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington as 1st President.

"Building A World of Tomorrow," time capsule assembled by Westinghouse was sunk on September 23, 1938.

Gallup poll showed that 85% who attended enjoyed it, the typical fair visitor went 2.3 times. 3% didn't like it at all. 63% who didn't go felt they couldn't afford it. The best liked exhibits: General Motors, Democracity, American Telephone & Telegraph, Ford, Soviet Pavilion, British Pavilion, & the Railroad exhibit.

What happened to the Trylon and Perisphere - 4,000 tons of steel became scrap destined for bombs, etc. for World War II.

Flushing Meadows Park.
New York City Building which became the first home of the United Nations and was also used in the New York World's Fair of 1964-5. Today the building is the Queens Museum, which includes exhibits on both fairs, plus more. New York State Amphitheatre, home to the Billy Rose Aquacade at the fair, holding ten thousand spectators, remained until 1996, when it was torn down.

Those in Charge

Fair was operated by a non-profit membership corporation, under legal status of an educational institution with Grover Whalen as President. New York City contributing $26.7 million for a building and basic improvements of site and roads, accelerating those civic improvements. New York State building, the aquacade, to be permanant with state contributing $6.2 million for its construction. The Federal Government authorized $3 million for its participation. Robert Moses was the Honorary chairman of exhibition. 1940 season showed profit under Harvey Down Gibson, a banker who replaced Grover Whalen, who remained an advisor.

Russian Pavilion

Sources: New York World's Fair Official Guidebook; New York World's Fair VIEWS - Picture Book of Fair ; Dawn of A New Day - The New York World's Fair, 1939-40; New York Times; London Times; Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs by Alfred Heller; Making a World's Fair; "The Science of International Fairs and Expositions" by Frederick Pittera; Report to the Congress of the United States by the U.S. New York World's Fair Commission.

Photo column top: Poster of the New York World's Fair 1939-40, New York World's Fair Authority. Courtesy Pinterest. Bottom: Russian Pavilion, Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., 1939, Courtesy Library of Congress.

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