The Legacy of the 1964 World's Fair, and What It Means for Theme Park Fans Today

June 11, 2015, 12:17 PM · While native New Yorkers have been frustrated with the heavy gentrification in the city recently, the New York City Parks Department treated us to a little taste of old New York this past weekend with a World's Fair Anniversary Festival at its old grounds, Flushing Meadow Corona Park. The event showcased memorabilia, a vintage car show, foods from the fair, and some interesting presentations about what a huge effect it truly had.

The symbol of the 64-65 New York World's Fair, the Unisphere. Built to symbolize "Peace Through Understanding," the fair's running theme.

What does an old World's Fair anniversary party have to do with theme parks, you ask? In a nutshell, everything. So many of the themes found at the fair are used in our favorite parks today: countries setting up pavilions showcasing their cultures, rides based on the history of mankind and what the future might hold, and delicious cultural foods and music. At the end of the night, a firework and fountain show set to music would occur. Sounds familiar, no?

Walt Disney was a huge proponent of the '64-65 fair, developing rides and technology still used today in some of the most beloved attractions at Disney parks. "It's a Small World" was developed for the fair's Pepsi pavilion. "Progressland" was a beloved attraction from the fair, which theme park fans now know as "Carousel of Progress." Some of the Dinosaur animatronics from the "Ford's Magic Skyway" attraction still can be seen on the Disneyland Railroad's Primeval World diorama. There are many more Disney contributions that found their way into the parks, and perhaps Disney World itself wouldn't exist had Walt decided to follow through with his idea of buying the World's Fair grounds.

Progressland poster
An original poster for "Progressland," found in a collectibles display tent

The fair was not sanctioned by the Bureau of International Expositions, so it wasn't officially a "World's Fair," but that wasn't going to stop it. Robert Moses, a New York visionary and somewhat of a polarizing character, was the head of the corporation established to run the fair. Anyone who knows of Robert Moses, whether you like him or not, knows he got things done. Although the fair was not considered a financial success, it had a large effect on New York City's infrastructure. For such a big event, roads must be built, along with mass transportation options. The Flushing Meadows Corona Park was a tidal marsh before the '39-40 World's Fair, and was only finally able to be completely transformed into the park Moses envisioned for the '64-65 fair.

Not much of the fair remains at the park today. Some of the art pieces designed for the fair are still on display, such as the Unisphere, the fair's iconic globe that sat in the middle of the action. One of my favorites was the "The Rocket Thrower," a statue in the park of a man reaching for the stars, signifying man's exploration into space. The New York display building is now the Queens Museum, an art museum with an original large diorama of New York City from the fair still intact. It also has a wing dedicated to the fair's history with lots of memorabilia, pictures and videos on display. One interesting tidbit of information is that the New York building was a temporary home to the United Nations, before it moved to Manhattan in 1952.

The Rocket Thrower
The Rocket Thrower, a sculpture from the fair still on display.

Will a World's Fair ever come back to New York? It seems highly unlikely, due to the fact that both fairs in New York were not financially successful. I could only imagine the traffic. Though with the large amount of attendance this event received, it seems that the public is not only interested in the history but would embrace the new fair with open arms. I know I for one would love to see it. Until then, the event was an interesting showcase and I would recommend anyone interested in the fair to read up on it. I hope some of these photos help illustrate how amazing the fair must have been. We owe a lot of the joy we've experienced at theme parks to the fair.

Unisphere fountains
The Unisphere with its fountains, which point in a direct line to the Statue of Liberty

Vintage cars
Some vintage cars on display, including James Bonds' original ride

New York State pavilion
The fair's iconic New York State pavilion, which you might recognize from the Men in Black ride at Universal Studios Florida. They started getting repainted last week I was told, which is a great sign and first step towards refurbishing this landmark.

New York City diorama
New York City diorama, located in the Queens Museum. Fair attendants would board a tiny "helicopter" and fly around the recreated city

Fair memorabilia
Some of the memorabilia from both fairs, located in the Queens Museum

Belgian Waffles
Belgian Waffles were first introduced to the states during the '64-65 fair

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Replies (4)

June 11, 2015 at 1:20 PM · New York Worlds Fair 2020! Let's start a petition!
June 11, 2015 at 2:11 PM · Fairs are usually not financially successful. Same with other state sanctioned events like the Olympics. I doubt New York will host one for the reason that its no longer 1964. New York is no longer the center of attention. If there is ever another Worlds Fair, it is likely in Beijing or Shanghai or Macau. Money is made by the people spending it in the local economy, not necessarily at the event site.
June 11, 2015 at 2:55 PM · They still do have worlds fairs, and they bring infrastructure or refurbishing of existing infrastructure, just like a stadium or the Olympics. Tourism in New York City reached record numbers in the last few years, check the facts. I agree that they wont do it anytime soon but not because New York is hurting from any tourism standpoint. Just as a public park, it is attended by millions every summer and the traffic would be insane. There's way too much red tape with politics in this state, but who knows what the future holds. That was a big part of the fair, after all
June 11, 2015 at 5:22 PM · I remember the Fair. I was 13yrs old when the fair was running and I went with my parents first but later I went with friends. Can you imagine a bunch of 13 & 14 year olds being allowed to travel on the train to the fair, without adults? It was a different time. It would never happen today. Now that I think of it, probably shouldn't have happened even back then either lol. The Fair was breathtaking in size and it was always crowded. As I remember it was less about making money on premises and more about showcasing products, companies and countries. When judged through that lense it was probably a success.

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