Monday, August 17, 2015

Westinghouse and Elektro, 1939 New York World's Fair

In today's post, I was going to share a few photos of Westinghouse-related pins from the 1939 World's Fair. But then I had the bright idea to gussy it up! It was very time consuming. No more bright ideas!

I'll start with this unusual (and rare) brass and enamel pin for the "American Institute (of) Science and Engineering Clubs", with a nice little bas-relief showing the façade of the Westinghouse building. Some krelboyne was sloppy with the blue enamel, but I forgive him.

Here's a photo of the same façade from one of my older posts. That tower in the middle reminds me of the electrical gizmos that Kenneth Strickfadden created for the 1931 version of "Frankenstein" and the 1933 sequel, "The Bride of Frankenstein". Bzzzzzzt! 

Perhaps the most famous feature of the Westinghouse exhibit was the seven foot-tall (or eight feet, depending on the resource), 265 pound robot called "Elektro". Little brass pins like this one are very common (I'll bet there are several on eBay right now), but that doesn't mean that they aren't awesome. 

Elektro could speak (via a 78-rpm records hidden in his torso), smoke cigarettes, walk on command, detect the difference between red and green, blow up balloons, count on his fingers, and as you can see here, he could dazzle the ladies with his natural charm, grace, and movie-star good looks. He could also incinerate you with his laser eyes, but you almost never read about that.

In 1940, Elektro was given a mechanical pooch named "Sparko", who could walk, beg, bark, and wag his tail. I love this rare pinback button featuring the two pals! Elektro looks like he is whistling, and it probably sounded like a theremin.

There they are, captured in a candid moment. "Who's. A. Good. Boy. You. Are. Yes. You. Are." When you took Sparko for a walk, you only had to sweep up a small pile of nuts and bolts.

This next very nice pin (or whatever you call these things) is something of a mystery to me; I've never seen another one. When the 1939/40 World's Fair ended, Elektro and Sparko were occasionally on display elsewhere...

...including the Westinghouse exhibit at Pacific Ocean Park! The photo below shows them as they were seen there.

When P.O.P. closed in 1967, Elektro was dismantled, and his head was given to a retiring Westinghouse engineer.  But the story has a happy ending! A man named Jack Weeks acquired the head of Elektro, and eventually purchased the legs and torso after a long search (it is astonishing that they still existed!).

Elektro can't perform all of the tricks he used to do, but he and Sparko were donated to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, where they can be loved by everyone.

I hope you have enjoyed Elektro and Sparko!


Nanook said...


If today's parents really had their s**t together, Elektro and Sparko would easily be the #1 & #2 boys names-! I simply don't understand how these perfectly good names have been so overlooked.

And extra points for including our metal-clad friends in their (almost) last home at the Westinghouse Enchanted Forest at POP. I had not realized until now that they can still be enjoyed at the Henry Ford Museum.

Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

Let Bob Gurr have a crack at them. I bet he could make them both fully functional again! Is that lady in the fourth pic trying to hold mistletoe over Elektro's head or is she trying to feed him?

I love today's post, Major! Now I want to go visit Elektro and Sparko in Michigan! That same museum has a slew of Mold-A-Rama machines. Oh yeah, and I guess they have cars too.

Nanook said...

Oh, Major-

Upon further reading, it appears Elektro and pal are permanently on-display at the Mansfield Memorial Museum, in West Mansfield, Ohio. AND... Elektro had a 'starring' role in that fabulous 1960 film classic: Sex Kittens Go to College, starring Mamie Van Doren. (Hubba, hubba-!)

Chuck said...

I was just reading about Elektro a few months ago, but I had no idea that he'd been partially restored and put on display. May need to schedule a road trip the next time I'm in the area.


News you've probably all seen already, but Disney has announced groundbreaking on "Star Wars Land" at both DL and WDW in 2017: Additionally, there'll be a Star Wars overlay for Tomorrowland throughout 2016 and a "Force Awakens" update to Star Tours.

The good news (thinking of K. Martinez) - looks like we'll finally be getting new E-ticket rides in DL proper for the first time in 20 years. Hooray!

The bad news (thinking of TokyoMagic!) - looks like we'll be losing Big Thunder Ranch. Boo!

This might work reasonably well if they give it a big enough budget and assign it to the right development team, but I'm always concerned about another budget-cutting exercise along the lines of what turned Tomorrowland 2055 into Tomorrowland 1998. There's the potential that the 2016 Star Wars overlay on Tomorrowland might be deemed "good enough" by management and become design iteration 2.0 for Disneyland's Star Wars Land, relegating the original plan to the same filing cabinet as Discovery Bay, Dumbo's Circusland, and Westcot.

I understand that geography prevents putting Star Wars Land next to Tomorrowland, where it makes the most thematic sense, but there is a real danger of seriously impacting traffic flow through Frontierland and Fantasyland. I have visions of the insane 1995 lines running from Indy all the way through the entrance of Adventureland, along the perimeter of the Hub, and through the gates of Frontierland. Irritated parents, already ticked at having to pay for even more expensive tickets, may become irate when they can't navigate strollers through bigger crowds. Bad press may impact attendance which impacts the ability to pay for the investment, and a fear of this may reduce budgets, which results in a inferior product (see above).

I'm also concerned about the loss of iconic survivors from the early days, particularly the remaining rock formations from the RCMT/NWRR. There's a potential to hang onto those, incorporating them into some sort of Tatooine-themed corner (and they have the advantage of already being paid for), but if they constrain the design parameters too much, they could disappear. I have a new hope that this is nothing more than a phantom menace, though. After all, we still have the Dominguez Palm and Tomorrowland's Senegal date palm.

K. Martinez said...

I'm glad you decided to gussy up today's post. It definitely enhanced the article.

Image 2 - First thing I thought of when viewing this image was Kenneth Strickfaden's arcing and sparking electrical special effects equipment from the old Universal Frankenstein films. I love the man's work he did in those films.

Image 7 - The item is called a tab pin or fold-over tab pin. I've collected these through the years, but try not to buy ones where the tab has been folded over.

Again, wonderful post today. Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, I wish they were sticking the new land in DCA or better yet, in a new "third" park, but I am glad they have decided not to convert Tomorrowland into an entire Star Wars Land. My main concern now would be for those remnants of Nature's Wonderland rockwork.....more so than for the ranch area itself. Somebody within the company better be looking out for them! And they are only a few yards away from Big Thunder, so I don't see why they couldn't stay just as they are without re-themeing them. Let's hope!

K. Martinez said...

Chuck - Yes, I saw all the details from various sources. "Disney and More" has some great high-res images of Disney's plans for many of the park projects announced at D23 on the weekend.

To me, Big Thunder Ranch is like Fantasyland Theater. They’re completely expendable, especially for an ambitious project like the "Star Wars Land". I'd much rather those be gutted than Autopia or Tomorrowland. Autopia is the last opening day attraction left in Tomorrowland. I’d like to see it stay. And I’d like to see Tomorrowland redone without relying on the IPs so heavily. As I commented before, I think Disneyland is stagnating, so I welcome this project.

As for Star Wars transitioning from Frontierland, the setting for Episode 7: The Force Awakens is the frontier and the film will supposedly have a gritty western feel to it from what I've read. I think thematic transition will be okay extending out from the Big Thunder Ranch footprint with the trees and vegetation as a buffer.

As for crowds, it has always an issue when a new attraction opens. I recall Space Mountain in 1977 with its massive wait. I also remember the line for Star Tours going down Main Street when it first opened. I also remember having to wait in line just to get into Toontown where it was set up as 20 people-out/20 people-in. It’s part of what people expect from Disneyland when a new attraction opens.

As for the Star Wars overlay of Tomorrowland, it will be either temporary or seasonal and most likely in the Jan-Feb period to increase park attendance during that slow period and get people hyped up for the new "land" coming down the road. One of the overlays will be of Space Mountain, converting it into "Hyperspace Mountain" with a Star Wars theme. I’m looking forward to it.

I love old Disneyland stuff, but it something better can be built, I'm all for it. If they do it as good with “Star Wars Land” as they did with “Cars Land” and “Buena Vista Street”, then it will be great. My only disappointment was that they didn't announce "Marvel Land" for DCA. If I had one main concern, it is that Disney moves notoriously slow with their projects compared to the days when Walt Disney was alive. All this could come to be when I'm too old and don't care.

K. Martinez said...

TokyoMagic! - I personally don't want a third gate. It usually comes at the expense of the existing parks. Disneyland still needs rejuvenating and DCA needs a little more development to become as complete as Disneyland next door in my opinion. I'm still waiting for a Tomorrowland redo and at this point I don't see it happening in my lifetime.

I'd imagine they'd keep the Nature's Wonderland rockwork as a buffer into the new area. Guess we'll find out in time.

Patrick Devlin said...

There's another item of vintage Disneyland at risk as well. I'd say that the need for increased access to that area will finally be the last straw for the Fantasyland Skyway Chalet. Too bad, as me and my brothers always wanted to see that become a little restaurant/food service. I'd also add that the Village Haus might have its outdoor seating area removed, or maybe the whole shebang relocated.

Patrick Devlin said...

K. Martinez: I know I'll slap my forehead, but to quote you, "And I’d like to see Tomorrowland redone without relying on the IPs so heavily." what are IPs?

K. Martinez said...

Patrick Devlin, Intellectual properties (Pixar, LucasFilm, Marvel) That type of thing. In other words I'd love to see Tomorrowland return to its roots as more of a science-fact world's fair type of themed land instead of relying on Star Wars, Iron Man, Captain America, Finding Nemo and Toy Story. Something like Soarin' would've been perfect for Tomorrowland. I'm okay with the Star Wars overlay because it's temporary/seasonal like Ghost Galaxy and Haunted Mansion Holiday, but ultimately I would love to see a return to a more visionary Tomorrowland (transporation, science, future living, etc.)

Hope that answers your question.

K. Martinez said...

Major, Are your interests specific to the NYWF's of 1939 and 1964 or do you collect other world's fair memorabilia as well?

Melissa said...

assault Elektro and Sparko were two of the lesser-known Marx Brothers.

Patrick Devlin said...

Thanks, K.. And I did slap my forehead...

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I wish my name was Elektro. Definitely with a “k”, not with a “c”.

TokyoMagic!, I wonder if Bob could do it? Sounds like they have some Jurassic technology to reproduce. I’m pretty sure that’s mistletoe! The Henry Ford Museum looks awesome, I hope I get to go someday.

Nanook, I read several different articles (not just Wikipedia!), and saw the mention of the Mansfield Memorial Museum. Since I wrote the post many weeks ago, I don’t remember why I went with the Ford museum. And yes, if you look up Elektro, you can’t avoid links to scenes from Sex Kittens Go to College.

Chuck, if it truly is in Ohio, it might not be so close to you. As for the news about Star Wars Land, I am not very excited. Maybe it will be neat. I can guarantee that it won’t look anywhere near as cool as that concept artwork that has been going around. Like everything they do, it will be scaled back. On Facebook there seemed to be some discussion about where it would actually go, and that there were several possibilities (though I suspect that the OC Register is correct). I feel like there is something wrong with me, why am I not more thrilled about Star Wars Land? Maybe it’s the thought of even bigger crowds, even higher admissions, and even LESS Disney. “But Major, Disney OWNS Star Wars now!”. True, but it’s not “Disney” to ME.

K. Martinez, I still think it’s amazing that all of those electric gizmos were in storage and ready to use in “Young Frankenstein” years later. I have always called those things “tabs”, but it seems like others refer to them as “pins” - never mind that there is no pin involved. If possible, I want them unfolded, just like you.

TokyoMagic!, I would not get too attached to the remaining Nature’s Wonderland rock work; though I could see them saving it and making it work as part of the entry to the new land. Being near Frontierland just seems weird.

K. Martinez, Big Thunder Ranch was a nice, often-quiet place to relax, but I can’t say I would miss it too much, to be honest. I get that crowds are just a fact of life now, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them. I’m frankly surprised that so many people seem totally OK with hour-long lines for minor attractions, long queues for a hamburger, pushing jostling hordes for fireworks and Fantasmic!… maybe I am just in a negative mood today.

K. Martinez again, yeah, they only just got their second gate up to some kind of decent standard… and that took them 10 or 11 years after opening.

Patrick Devlin, I thought that the chalet had already been slated for destruction, but maybe I just imagined that? I’m almost positive that it had been announced a year or two ago.

K. Martinez, I am primarily interested in the 1939 and 1964 New York Fairs, though I do have a small collection of items from the 1933 Chicago fair, and a few odds and ends from others. Actually, other than pins, my World’s Fair collection is pretty skimpy.

Melissa, considering how boring Zeppo was, I can only imagine how bad the forgotten Elektro and Sparko must have been! (Why am I not getting the use of the word “assault” in your comment?)

Nancy said...

Another post with a Pittsburgh connection!! :) I am loving this.

Westinghouse was founded in Pittsburgh in 1886, the suburb of Monroeville to be exact, also famous for Dawn of the Dead, which was filmed at the Monroeville Mall.

I did not know much about this exhibit, but now I know a lot and I thank you for putting it all together. An absolutely wonderful post today, David!! :-) You do the funnest history lessons ever!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff, Major. All new to me. I love the robot and his dog.


Melissa said...

"Assault" was what my voice recognition software thought I said when I said, "I thought." And then I hit "publish" too soon.