Saturday, January 11, 2014

1939 New York World's Fair

Let's head back to the year 1939 to visit the glorious New York World's Fair! I was very happy to be able to acquire some rare color 35mm slides from this legendary Fair.

This slightly-askew photo shows the USSR pavilion, with its landmark 79 foot stainless steel statue of "Joe the Worker" (or "Big Joe" as the fair employees dubbed him) which stood atop a 188 foot pedestal made of "red porphyry and Gasgan marble"; in his hand he held an illuminated red star. While there is no doubt that this is a striking edifice, some Americans viewed this imposing structure as a not-so-subtle taunt.

Exhibits included a full-sized reproduction of one of Moscow's new subway stations, a huge map of the Soviet Union made entirely of precious and semi-precious stones, the airplane used in the first trans-polar flight from the USSR to the USA, as well as handicrafts, singers, dancers, and a restaurant featuring Soviet foods and wines.

This genuine 4,000 horsepower diesel locomotive was just one of the many wonders that could be seen at the General Motors "Highways and Horizons" exhibit. There was even a series of animated displays, "…picturing many foreign nations in which General Motors operates". 

The Ford Motor Company's pavilion was situated on the highest part of the Fair grounds (or so says the official guide book). Included in this pavilion was "The Road of Tomorrow",  rising on a spiral ramp for more than half a mile in length over the roof of the main structure. The inside of the Entrance Hall was dominated by a series of exhibits, including the first car Henry Ford built, as well as Lincoln-Zyphyr, Mercury, and Ford V-8 cars.

I only have three more color pictures from this Fair. Stay tuned!


K. Martinez said...

What an incredible set of 1939 World's Fair photos. I love the architecture of the Ford pavilion. It's a beauty.

Heres a link to a film about the General Motors exhibit. Enjoy!

Description: Definitive document of pre-World War II futuristic utopian thinking, as envisioned by General Motors. Documents the "Futurama" exhibit in GM's "Highways and Horizons" pavilion at the World's Fair, which looks ahead to the "wonder world of 1960."

Nanook said...


That General Motors Diesel Locomotive is soooo streamlined - it almost looks as if it was a cartoon drawing.

And, I'm just guessing here, "The Road of Tomorrow" probably doesn't resemble in any way the highways of today.

Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

I believe we can see a car actually driving on "The Road Of Tomorrow" in the background of that train pic.

TokyoMagic! said...

P.S. I've seen home movies of "The Road Of Tomorrow and it had cars driving around on a raised roadway very similar in appearance to what eventually became our modern freeways.

Matt Hunter Ross said...

That shot of the train is incredible. Thanks for sharing.

Major Pepperidge said...

K. Martinez, I have seen that film, but I'm sure many GDB readers haven't… they should definitely check it out! It's interesting to note the similarities with GM's 1964 "Futurama" exhibit. The narration is so lofty and sort of dreamy, I've actually heard it sampled by a band that produces oddball music.

Nanook, the locomotive actually had to have chocks in front of the wheels, or else it would just start moving all on its own! Like a shark, it couldn't stay still.

TokyoMagic!, yes, you are right… I meant to mention it, but after researching my facts in the souvenir guidebook, I forgot to! And I've always wondered, could Fairgoers drive those cars, or were they driven by Ford employees all day long?

Matt Hunter Ross, you are welcome!

Melissa said...

I've always loved Joe the Worker; can;t get enough pictures of him, and that's a particularly nice one for light and color.

That's some kind of scary fire demon brandishing his claw tongs over the crown in front of the Ford pavilion, though.

Major Pepperidge said...

Melissa, he IS pretty cool, even if he is a Commie! The sculpture in front of the Ford entrance is kind of menacing, with its winged helmet - maybe he is from Asgard.

Chuck said...

Oh, to have seen that Electromotive Corporation E6 A/B cutaway demonstrator in person as it protruded through the wall of the GM pavilion. Technically speaking, it was two 2,000 hp locomotives close-coupled and controlled by a single cab rather than a true 4,000 hp piece of machinery, but it seems trite to quibble with GM's PR folks in the face of such streamlined beauty. They don't make locomotives like that anymore.

The Soviet pavilion was torn down before the second season of the Fair began, a victim of political tension between the United States and the USSR after the latter's Non-Aggression Pact with Germany and subsequent occupation of eastern Poland. The vacant lot was dubbed "The American Commons."

Major Pepperidge said...

Chuck, thank you for that interesting information about the Soviet pavilion, if I ever knew that it was only there for the '39 season I had forgotten it. Amazing that all that expense and effort was only open to the public for six months.