5 Things You Didn't Know About The 1939 World's Fair

The 1939 New York World’s Fair opened on April 30, 1939, which was the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington in New York City, the nation’s first capitol. Here are 5 things you probably didn't know about the 1939 World's Fair...

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The Fair Featured Two Imposing Structures Spanning 1,200 acres at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, the fairground was marked by two imposing structures—the “Perisphere” and the “Trylon” —which quickly became symbols of the fair. Planners of the fair wanted to develop structures comparable to the Eiffel Tower, which was constructed for the Universal Exposition of 1889 in Paris, France. The Trylon and Perisphere were chosen for their unique yet simple shapes, which symbolized the fair's futuristic vibe. To get into the Perisphere, guests had to ride up an electric escalator, which was the longest of its kind back then. When visitors wanted to get back out, they had to go down the Helicline, a 950-foot-long curved ramp that took guests back to ground level.

The Fair Introduced Some New Technology The 1939 World's Fair exhibited new technology such as FM radio, nylon fabric, the View-Master, robotics, and a crude fax machine. Norman Bel Geddes designed a Futurama ride for General Motors, and users were transported through an idealized city of the future. The fair was also the first public demonstration of several lighting technologies that would become common in future decades including the introduction of the fluorescent light by General Electric. Other exhibits included Vermeer’s painting The Milkmaid from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, a streamlined pencil sharpener, and early televisions. 

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It Was The First Day Television Was Broadcasting In New York The opening ceremony, which featured a speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt ushered in the first day of television broadcasting in New York. As a reflection of the wide range of technological innovation at the fair, Franklin D. Roosevelt's speech was not only broadcast over the various radio networks but also was televised on 200 television sets scattered throughout the New York metropolitan area. During this formal introduction at the fair, television sets became available for public purchase at various stores in the New York City area. 


A Popular Exibit Was The Westinghouse Time Capsule One of the first exhibits to receive attention was the Westinghouse Time Capsule. 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: (wheat, corn, oats, tobacco, cotton, flax, rice, soy beans, alfalfa, sugar beets, carrots, and barley, all sealed in glass tubes). The time capsule is buried at a depth of 50 feet and is not to be opened for 5,000 years (the year 6939). 

The Fair Was A Financial Flop Sixty-three nations participated in the fair, which enjoyed large crowds before the outbreak of World War II interrupted many of its scheduled events. The great fair attracted over 45 million visitors and generated roughly $48 million in revenue. Since the Fair Corporation had invested $67 million (in addition to nearly a hundred million dollars from other sources), it was a financial failure, and the corporation declared bankruptcy. The next day after the gates closed to the fair for the last time, demolition of the fair site started, including the Trylon and Perisphere. It's believed that some parts of the structures were used to make military weapons and equipment for the Second World War.