Saturday, September 23, 2023

1939 New York World's Fair

You've seen plenty of photos of the 1964/65 New York World's Fair on GDB, but today's scans are from rare color slides from the 1939 Fair. That Fair was supposed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth, but it is remembered for its other theme - "The World of Tomorrow". Coming at the end of the Great Depression and just before war broke out in Europe, it was a unique time in history.

Eastman Kodak introduced Kodachrome film to the public in 1935. I have no doubt that the film and processing were both very expensive, but it caught on little by little. And the 1939 Fair was a place that some amateur shutterbugs decided to try this new technology; again, color photos from the Fair are not common, but they are out there. It's quite a thing to look at color images from over 80 years ago.

First up is this photo of two mannequins dressed in turn-of-the-century outfits, at the wheel of what I believe is an early Ford automobile, though it is admittedly only a guess - there's not a lot of detailed information about the displays at the '39 Fair. I'm wondering if this could have been an early electric vehicle? Yes, those did exist, even in the very early days of horseless carriages. If anybody has any information about this photo that they'd like to pass on, I'd love to hear it!

Here's what the Ford pavilion looked like from the outside. See all those little glass panes? SEE THEM?? Well, now you have to clean them all. GOT YOU.

Outside the Ford pavilion was this art deco tribute to the glorious V8 engine - perhaps specifically a tribute to the popular Ford Flathead V8, introduced in 1932. Notice the Trylon and Perisphere (the Fair theme buildings) in the background! 

And finally, here's a nice photo of the Italia pavilion as seen at night. I quoted a description before, and I may as well use it again: The Italian Pavilion displayed a combination of classical Roman and modern Italian architecture in its design. A statue of the goddess Roma stood atop a 200 foot high pedestal with a waterfall cascading down the steps into a pool at the base of the monument which was dedicated to Marconi.

I hope you have enjoyed these rare color views from the 1939 New York World's Fair!



That automobile is a 1903-1904 Ford model A ( not to be confused with the second 1928 Ford Model A)it’s the Ford Motor Co.’s first car. it was a gasoline auto as ford didn’t have any electric production cars. The car was available as a two seater ( shown in the picture) and you could also purchase a rear entrance toneou that added extra seats for 4.

Nanook said...


That B&W image of the Ford exhibition building captures a great-looking depiction of the mythical god Mercury. That would be great to see in color.

Thanks, Major.

JB said...

Oooh! Color slides of the '39 Fair! Seeing that fair in color makes it seem more real; more like it's taking place TODAY, in 2023! That's a strange sensation.

My immediate thoughts when seeing the mannequins in the car was: Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood in "The Great Race". The mannequins bear a remarkable resemblance to them; including the costumes.

That's a wonderfully odd metal sculpture 'floating' above the entrance of the Pavilion; beautiful, interesting, futuristic, and somewhat comical... all at the same time.

That V8 sculpture is truly iconic. So much so, that Disney "borrowed" it as the logo for the Flo's V8 Cafe in Radiator Springs, DCA.

Wow, a color and nighttime photo of the Italia Pavilion. The photographer must have used a tripod (or a trylon) to capture this image.

What a pleasant surprise to see the '39 fair in color. Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

The color on these is incredible, for their age. They look like they could have even been taken at the 1964 NYWF, if we didn't know better.

That car looks a little like Mr. Toad's "motor car."

I recognized Mercury on the front of the Ford pavilion, because of his "winged helmet," but what is he holding in his hands? Sling shots? I tried looking up what it is that he normally holds, and I could only find that he is "often depicted holding the caduceus." But neither one of those objects appear to be that. We can also see a couple cars on that multi-tiered structure, to the left of the main building. Was the 1939 Ford pavilion the one with the cars driving around on a simulated "freeway"? I was thinking that was another company, but it must have been Ford. Now I am wondering if the cars entered the building at any point.....and if there were animatronic dinosaurs inside. ;-)

At first glance, I thought you were saying that the monument at the Italia pavilion was dedicated to macaroni. But after reading it again, I realized you were talking about that boring telegraph guy.

Thanks for the trip to 1939, Major!

Melissa said...

TM! I think that's another V8 in Mercury's right hand. Not sure about the left.

The picture of the Italy Pavilion is so beautiful and dreamlike. It looks real and unreal at the same time.

Just the other night, I was watching the episode of The X-Files where the Trylon and Perisphere in the background of a picture helps them solve the case.

TokyoMagic! said...

Melissa, oh yeah! I can see the V8 symbol now in his right hand. Maybe that's a glass in his left hand, so that he doesn't have to drink his V8 out of the can. ;-)

Major Pepperidge said...

Mike Cozart, interesting, until now I did not know that Ford had TWO Model A types from different eras. The early days of automobile production were so interesting, there weren’t really any rules (although a lot of the cars just looked like buggies without horses).

Nanook, I am almost certain I have seen color images of the Ford building with the sculpture of Mercury out front. Maybe a bit later I’ll see if I can find one.

JB, I agree, we tend to think of the past as black and white, so it really is amazing to see photos in color! There is a surprising amount of color movie footage too, it’s incredible. I think the Mercury sculpture is pretty cool, and I like the fact that it doesn’t look like so many other statues that were so abundant at the Fair - sadly this lot of color images from the Fair mostly features pictures of those darn sculptures. Kind of boring. I can’t fault Disney too much for their V8 design, I’m sure many people would wind up on that same general look.

TokyoMagic!, hey, you’re right, that car DOES look like one of Mr. Toad’s! I’m sure Bob Gurr was plenty familiar with the old Model As that Mike Cozart mentioned. Mercury is holding Zagnut bars in his hands, if you remember your classical Greek myths he was always handing those out to kids. Yes, the 1939 Ford Pavilion allowed guests to drive on a mini-highway, though I am not sure about whether the cars went indoors. You’d think that it might be a bad idea with emissions and stuff. Your comment about macaroni reminded me of a silly meme I saw recently, it had photos of French President Macron, a macaron, a macaroon, macaroni, Marconi, and Mickey Rooney.

Melissa, if a V8 is good, a V9 would be one better. Think about it. I want to climb up and sit on Italia’s lap and wave to everyone below. Whoa, now I want to see that X-Files episode! There was another one that I was almost certain had been filmed at the then-closed Santa’s Village, but when I finally saw it again, it was clearly not filmed there. Boo.

TokyoMagic!, they never tell you that one of the ingredients of V8 juice is bald eagle blood.

Chuck said...

Great sleuthification work, Major! Even if we didn’t have positive ID that that car is a Model A, matching the curved background window of architectural glass block with the exterior of the Ford pavilion would have clinched it for me (although I do think it’s dirty pool to trick us into looking at the windows just so you don’t have to clean them yourself).

The Kodachrome here really pops, reminding us that the world has always been a carrousel of color.

I remember watching a PBS documentary back in the latter half of the ‘80s (I want to say it was 1985-86 based on my memory of where the TV was in which house) about the 1939-40 NYWF that was based around Jason Robards’ home movies of the Fair. He also narrated, and he talked about how his dad had splurged on Kodachrome movie film because the Fair was a glimpse of the future and he wanted to use the latest technology to capture it.

Mercury is holding a V12 in his left hand, probably a reference to the Lincoln-Zephyr V12

TM!, the Ford pavilion did have an attraction called “The Road of Tomorrow,” which consisted of a ride along a closed highway circuit. Unlike the Magic Skyway’s Omnimover system, the cars were driven by young men, who had to keep the cars at a constant 12 mph and a constant distance from each other. The roadway did go through part of the building and also provided some elevated views of the fairground. Here’s an postcard showing an overview of what the building looked like, including the roadway.

The GM’s pavilion also had an simulated freeway in their original Futurama exhibit, although that was a giant diorama (and almost certainly an inspiration for the later Progress City model). The pavilion also featured a full-scale static mock-up of a futuristic city intersection, with elevated walkways to separate pedestrians from traffic. They recycled the name and some of the concept for the 1964-65 Fair.

Thanks, Major!

JG said...

Rare vintage photos, aged to perfection, served with a little Marconi on the side.

Since shooting hadn’t started yet, the copywriter is not admitting that “modern Italian architecture” of that era was a symbol of Mussolini’s Fascism, but the imagery is powerful and the style is similar to the Streamline style elsewhere.

Mom and Dad were married in 1939, they honeymooned at the San Francisco Exposition of the same year. I have a couple of photos of them there. I think I shared some paper memorabilia from that trip here on GDB, long ago.

Thanks for the informative post, Major!


Dean Finder said...

Although the 1964-65 Fair is better remembered, the 1939-40 Fair had a more epic scale. There was definitely a fin de si├Ęcle air on the eve of war.
Chuck, I need to find that documentary. I saw the one they did for the 1964-65 Fair narrated by Judd Hirsch.
All of this talk about color vs b/w photos reminds me of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip where Calvin's dad tries to convince him that the world was b/w until the late 1930s and old photos are color pics of a b/w world.

Chuck said...

Dean, it was called “The World of Tomorrow.”, and it appears to be available on YouTube:

I was actually thinking about that Calvin & Hobbes when I was writing my comment, but was afraid to reference for fear it would be too obscure.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link Chuck; looking forward to watching that.
And JG, Fascism is just what came to my mind with all the V8 images- logo a symbolism. Flags, sculptures, knockoff caduceus and everything.
Long live Calvin and Hobbes.



Yes …. When FORD started they went with models A - T …. Stopping at “T” in 1909 ( technically there are a few 1908 model “T”s …. FORD’s first cars were not inexpensive…some like the “K” were luxury cars and as they got closer to the “T” they got cheaper and cheaper ….and easier to drive and operate. The model “T” was produced until 1927 when Henry Ford reluctantly gave in to change as more modern Chevrolet’s out sold the later Model T’s …. Since the model T’s replacement / new design was such a big deal … Henry wanted to keep calling it a Model T … but the board of directors wanted to shake away any contacts of the “tin lizzy” Abs said to re-start with “A” . The second Model A was produced till 1931. The Model B was eventually dropped in name in 1933.

A few of Disneyland’s Main Street vehicles like the “horseless carriages” and “Fire Engline” use chassis and wheel parts from 1920’s Model A’s despite the exteriors are made to resemble 1903 “Autocars” and 1905 “American La France”

Bruce Bushman based the Toad cars on two real cars one American I think a 1903 Rambler and a 1907 Hispana Suzia .


Correction : Bruce Bushman combined a 1906 AUTOCAR and a 1904 GLIDE ROADSTER.

The film toad car has elements of a Hispano-Suzia and a AUTOCAR.

Disneyland’s 1956 HORSLESS CARRIAGE #1 is based on a 1903 AUTOCAR and 1903 FRANKLIN

The 2nd and #1 rebuild is based on a Hispano Suzia toneu and AUTOCAR .

Melissa said...

Mercury kind of looks like the Robot Devil from Futurama.

Major Pepperidge said...

Chuck, I like to think of myself as a real Tom Sawyer-type. Through cleverness and charm I can get people to do all of my chores for me! I saw that very same PBS documentary (the one narrated by Jason Robards), and it really made an impact; just days later I went to the Pasadena City College swap meet and saw a pin from the 1939 Fair. I bought it, and it was the first of scores of pins that I now own, not to mention some other collectibles from that amazing Fair. The color films are from “The Medicus Collection”, which I know little about, but you can see them all on the Internet Archive HERE. Thanks for the clarification on The Road of Tomorrow, I am sure I once knew all the details about that feature, but my 39/40 Fair knowledge has taken a back seat to Disneyland for quite a few years. GM’s “Futurama” is one of the “must see” exhibits when I get my time machine working!

JG, you are right, the architecture is without question influenced by Mussolini’s fascism, a weird blend of classical and “modern”. The weird thing is that a lot of the sculptures around the Fair have that same style (in my opinion), even when they aren’t associated with fascist regimes. You did share some of your parent’s 1939 San Francisco items on GDB!

Dean Finder, the 1939/40 Fair felt like a purposeful attempt to build something to appeal to Americans who had been suffering under a grinding Great Depression for years. Also, it was an official World’s Fair, unlike the unsanctioned 1964/65 Fair (as great as that one was). Thanks for the link to the Calvin and Hobbes strip, Bill Watterson was a true genius. It kind of reminds me of when I told my niece that the Pacific Ocean had been built when FDR was President.

Chuck, is Calvin and Hobbes obscure now? If so, that’s a bummer!

MS, see my comment to JG, I feel as if the fascist aesthetic could be seen in more places than just the Italia pavilion. So many sculptures and artworks look like the kind of thing that Hitler and his ilk preferred, any truly modern artwork (much of it by Jewish creators) was just too weird for the general public back then.

Mike Cozart, I do recall reading that Henry Ford, even though he was an innovator in many ways, eventually seemed to espouse the general “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. I have to wonder how things would have gone if he had been allowed to have his way, luckily for him he wasn’t surrounded by “yes men”. I believe that his son Edsel was responsible for many of the modernizations. So Bruce Bushman designed the Toad cars? So much for Bob Gurr’s statement (I am paraphrasing), “If it moved on wheels, I designed it”.

Mike Cozart, thank you for the details!

Melissa, it sure does! Only Mercury isn’t brandishing a knife.


Well … Bruce Bushman was an animator … so his designs probably had. Some GURR-assistance in building a functioning physical Toad ride vehicle.

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, thanks for that information....and those links! I do remember seeing that PBS documentary narrated by Jason Robards, back in the eighties. I don't remember it beginning with so many nude women....or any, for that matter. Maybe I had missed the very beginning of it. And I was glad to hear Judy Garland say, "Yes", when asked if she had any friends.

Major, Zagnut bars, huh? I always thought Mercury handed out Mars® bars.

TokyoMagic! said...

I always thought Mercury handed out Mars® bars.

Oh, and FTD Pick-Me-Up Bouquets®!