Wednesday, May 23, 2012

1939 New York World's Fair

Here are a few more vintage snapshots from the 1939 New York World's Fair!

Over at the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) pavilion, you were greet by the impressive sight of this statue of a noble worker holding a red star. At 269 feet tall, it was dwarfed only by the 700 foot tall Trylon. Construction workers at the Fair dubbed this statue "Big Joe" and "The Bronx Express Straphanger"! One of the more popular exhibits in the pavilion was a full-size recreation of a subway station, made to look larger by using mirrors.

Italy's pavilion was another striking landmark, with a waterfall that cascaded down the entire front of the structure! "Roma" sits above it, majestically. While the Fair was at the end of the Great Depression, the restaurant at the Italian pavilion (modeled after the luxury liner "S.S. Conti de Savoia") was one of the most expensive, and was surprisingly popular.

Right near the Trylon and Perisphere was this sculpture, a giant sundial entitled "Time and the Fates of Man", by Paul Manship (famous for his golden statue of Prometheus at Rockefeller Center). The sculpture represented "The Tree of Life, the Three Fates, and Man's Destiny".

Another sculpture can be seen to our left, entitled "Riders of the Elements". Notice the light fixtures with the airplanes! In the background you can see the 100 foot-tall fin of the Firestone building, where one could watch a tire being born (among other things).

The General Motors building most famously contained the original "Futurama" attraction, by far the most popular at the Fair. Designed by Norman Bel Geddes, Futurama showed visitors what the country could look like 20 years in the future, with an emphasis on an automated interstate highway system. Over 500 guests at a time rode a conveyor system that simulated the view from a low-flying airplane, soaring above mountains and countryside, eventually heading into a utopian city. In many ways it was the forerunner of the kind of attractions that Disney would produce at Epcot.


scott8637 said...

the waterfall on the Italian pavilion is amazing. Have never seen a pic of it before.
I want that Sundial.
Looks like the M.I.B. were busy at the "39" worlds fair. Slap a Firestone sign on the side and call it good. People were so naive back then.
Any Worlds fair pics are appreciated. Keep them coming Major.
P.s. Do you have any from the 72 Spokane worlds fair?

K. Martinez said...

I think it was concluded upon opening that EPCOT Center was more or less a permanent world's fair, so it makes sense that Disney would mirror these types of attractions for Epcot.

I remember being excited about EPCOT "the city" and then the announcement to proceed with the project finally came. I was so disappointed when it became clear that it wasn’t going to be what Walt had intended. Needless to say I went to EPCOT Center its opening year and enjoyed it for what it was.
Your blog has definitely renewed my interest in world’s fairs. I especially like the ’39 and ’64 New York World’s Fairs images. Great stuff!

Melissa said...

I'm fascinated by the USSR statue. I haven't been able to find out what happened to him after the fair, thgouh.

Nancy said...

SUch beautiful pictures. I love the sepia tones, contrasting esp with how modern the General Motors building is. It always amazes me to see how modern things were at the 1939 Fair.

I will be at EPCOT Center this coming Oct 1 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of my favorite Disney park. I was just thinking about how little the World Showcase side has changed compared with Future World. :-(

I dont like how they just rip out these things that Walt wanted to show the world, but I will be there and hopefully they will have some displays that will show those who missed it what EPCOT Center was like when it was fresh and new!

Major Pepperidge said...

scott8637, the Italian building IS pretty amazing! Apparently it was reviled by architecture critics, but the public loved it. As for Spokane '72, it surprises me to realize that I have no images of that at all. Rats!

K. Martinez, like you I was enchanted at the idea of EPCOT, the city version. I'm not sure it was truly feasible in spite of Walt's inspiring dream; the place could have been built, but I suspect that it would have been more problematic than we can imagine. Unfortunately.

Melissa, my guess is that "Big Joe" went back to the USSR somewhere, but I don't really know. In fact, I wonder what happened to most of the many sculptures that were created for the '39 Fair.

Nancy, HAVE FUN at Epcot! Like most of WDW, I wish I could have seen it the way it was at its peak, especially when Horizons was still running.

Irene said...

I went to the Spokane World's Fair in 72 and I have photos, not slides. I'd have to hunt for them but I believe the last time I saw them the color had turned. That was a fun trip.

Major Pepperidge said...

Irene, depending on how much the color has shifted, it might be possible to correct them in Photoshop. If they have gone completely red (or yellow, or blue), then there might be no hope. I'll have to do a Google search, since I have only fuzzy recollections of the Spokane fair from when I was a kid.

scott8637 said...

@Irene It would be great if you would share those pics. That is the only worlds fair I've been to been to. I was only eight and my memories of it have faded, in fact about the only thing I clearly remember is the Goodyear blimp, and the entrance. (If I remember correctly the fair was on an island?)
I've been to Spokane hundreds of times since, but nothing remains of the fair.
As always thanks for a great post Major.

walterworld said...


Curious, do you have any Kodachrome images from the '39 fair?

Major Pepperidge said...

scott8637, if Irene is willing to share her photos on this blog, I would be happy to!

walterworld, I do have a small group of Kodachromes from the '39 Fair! You'll see them one of these days... some of them are of a girlie show, you can see through their filmy blouses. Naughty!