Wednesday, October 09, 2013

New York World's Fair, 1940

One of my time machine "dream destinations" would be the 1939-40 New York World's Fair - the "World of Tomorrow". Built as Great Depression reached its 10th year and opening just months before World War II began in Europe, the Fair seemed perched between the past - Art Deco architecture was still prominent - and a beautiful "Tomorrow" featuring gleaming buildings, clean cities, modern marvels, and plenty of everything for everyone.

I was lucky enough to happen upon some rare Kodachrome slides from 1940, and am happy to be able to share them with you here. Let's start with the façade to the American Telephone and Telegraph Company pavilion; out front is "The Pony Express" sculpture; when you walked through the semi-circular entrance, you passed a forecourt with "aromatic pines" on your way to the formal entrance. Inside, lucky guests (chosen by lot) could make long-distance calls to anywhere in the U.S. The "Voder Exhibit" demonstrated the creation of a synthetic human voice. There was a "Hearing Exhibit" and a "Stereophonic Exhibit". Sounds pretty neat!

It's a bummer that this one is so dark, but you can still see the giant cash register, part of the "National Cash Register Company" pavilion. The register itself is 40 feet high, and was atop a 33 foot tall building. The numbers in the display showed the daily attendance (in this case, 236,510) in 2 1/2 foot numbers. Inside you could see a cash register reduced to all of its parts - all 7,857 of them!

Lastly (for today) we have the Communications Building. The official guidebook says describes it  thusly: Flanked by twin pylons 160 feet high, the façade is adorned with Eugene Savage's giant mural which depicts some means of communication. Inside, you could see a presentation of man's progress in communication, from the sign language of the earliest ages to the modern marvel of television. There was also a 20 foot plastic head on one end of the hall, and a thirty-foot globe at the other end. In addition, there were seven panels with animated displays illustrating one of the principal means of communication - postal service, printed word, telegraph, telephone, motion picture, radio, and television. And that was just a fraction of what you would see!

I hope you have enjoyed your visit to the 1940 World's Fair.


Nanook said...


I always loved the National Cash Register pavilion, with its out-sized cash register thrust skyward, counting-off the fair's attendees. Another favorite was the Johns-Manville pavilion, declaring to the world: "Asbestos - the Miracle Mineral". Yes indeed.

Thanks, Major.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, old-fashioned cash registers are cool anyway, and one that is over 40 feet tall is even cooler! As for Asbestos, I almost feel sorry for it. Everyone used to love it, and now it is scorned and avoided! ;-)

K. Martinez said...

The National Cash Register pavilion reminds me of Bill Finger's work in Batman comics in which he used giant sized props like enlarged coins, sewing machines, typewriters and even cash registers in his stories.

Love the Communications building with it's twin pylons and giant Eugene Savage mural. It's a beauty!

Anonymous said...

Great photos!
The pylons look like the finish line for one of those Red Bull airplane races.

Tom said...

You should see the blue-chip stamps that cash register spit out at the end of the day!

Great pics - I too am a huge fan of the '39 World's Fair. It's absolutely on my "time machine" list.

Anonymous said...

I have pics of my Mom and Dad at the 1939 fair in San Francisco. At least, that's where they told me it was taken, only parts of buildings are visible.

Do we even bother to have these events anymore?


Nancy said...

I love how modern it was at this Fair. Major, I will join you on the trip once the time machine is ready! ;-)

Melissa said...

Wow, these are gorgeous, Major! Crisp, clear shots of the sort of architecture we're not likely to see in a fresh state again. And in living color!

I expect the Jolly Green Giant showed up and used the NCR building to open up a farmers' market.

I don't care what allegory of communication he's supposed to be representing, that humanoid statue shouldn't be crawling around down behind the pony statue unless he wants to get covered in granite poop.

The Communications Building sounds like a proto-Spaceship Earth, especially with the big globe at one end. I'll have to poke around and see if there are any interior pictures online.

Irene said...

I love Kodachrome slides! They are a thing of beauty :)

SundayNight said...

Beautiful, beautiful. The 39 NYWF is also a big favorite of mine.

Major Pepperidge said...

K. Martinez, I'm not sure I know of Bill Finger's work, although your descriptions ring a bell!

Anon, maybe Wiley Post flew between those pylons.

Tom, I was more of an S&H Green Stamp guy!

JG, I have some beautiful color photos from the San Francisco Fair. Stay tuned for those!

Nancy, I think I love the combination of Art Deco and modernism - the future as seen from the past.

Melissa, I've been trying to figure out what the Indians are doing near the pony express rider… it looks like they are blowing on flames? Maybe they would set fires when they knew that the pony express what coming through their land.

Irene, I love them too!

SundayNight, there are still a few more from this lot to come.

Bill Cotter said...

Great shots. Thanks for sharing them!