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The World’s Fair

Welcome to Biblion: World’s Fair

Biblion: World’s Fair

Enter the World of Tomorrow

Enter the World of Tomorrow through one of the Library's richest and most heavily used archival collections: the official corporate records of the 1939–40 New York World's Fair. The Fair, like the Library, has something for everyone, from technological innovation and classical music, to pop culture and a portrait of the world dealing with the crises of war and economic hardship.

New York Public Editions
A Moment in Time: On the Brink of War

Designed to be everything from an economic catalyst for a Depression-laden New York to a harbinger of a worldwide peace movement, the Fair came to stand for a turning point in history. By opening day in 1939, the world was already in the midst of what was, for most, the second major war of their lifetimes. With some sixty nations represented on the grounds, international participation inevitably reflected the movements of the world at large: Germany flexed its strength; the Czechoslovakia Pavilion became “a monument to a murdered republic”; and Great Britain’s presence transitioned from celebratory to somber. Simultaneously, America’s collective uncertainty began to manifest itself in conspicuous displays of patriotism, from the simply entertaining to the intensely symbolic.

Beacon of Idealism: Building Democracity

At the very center of the Fair sat the immense Trylon and Persisphere — buildings that not only housed the Fair’s “theme exhibit,” a model of the metropolis of the future, but also embodied the Fair’s overall message, “Building the World of Tomorrow.” For the inaugural 1939 season, the Fair looked promisingly towards the future, and every element, from the physical layout to buttons on employees’ coats, was selected with the theme in mind. Yet, when the first season’s income fell far short of that needed to clear the Fair’s debts, that forward-looking message was reconsidered. The winter that bridged 1939 and 1940 brought not only a changing of the guard at the Fair, but also a new theme, “For Peace and Freedom.”

Enter the World of Tomorrow: To Futurama ... and Beyond

Smoking Robots! Electric Kitchens! The Magic of … Asbestos? From practical to gimmicky to occasionally misguided, the Fair’s displays of innovation covered all aspects of American life. The Time Capsule preserved 1939 for the scientists of the future. GM’s spectacular Futurama showed how the automobile would catapult the nation into the not-so-distant future. And the television broadcast of the Fair’s opening ceremonies, on April 30,1939, heralded the introduction of TV to a mass American audience. The Fair Corporation and the hundreds of private enterprises that held exhibits were not only promoting a host of new, consumer-oriented products — they were promoting the idea that science and technology could lead America triumphantly into a better tomorrow.

Fashion, Food & Famous Faces: Pop Culture at the Fair

And fabulous the Fair was, a veritable parade of glamorous celebrities, sports stars, fashion models, political luminaries, musical greats, and visual artists who brought America's "today" to "The World of Tomorrow" in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Marlene Dietrich, austerely elegant in turban and fur coat. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, wearing a "Trylon and Perisphere" print dress. Salvador Dalí, surrealist ringmaster of his "Dream of Venus" extravaganza. Babe Ruth, showing young baseball hopefuls how to put their shoulders into a swing. Then there was the food, everything from the haute cuisine of Le Restaurant Français in the French Pavilion to the all-American hotdog, the latter enjoyed by countless Fair visitors, including Hollywood beauty Dorothy Lamour.

From the Stacks: The Fair Comes to NYPL

When the Fair's Records arrived at the Library in 1941, they amounted to ten tons of paper generated by the Fair's administration, which had spread over five huge floors of the Empire State Building. Correspondence, press clippings, autographs, financial documents, contracts, photographs, memos, drawings, architectural plans, memorabilia, and much more paint a picture of the totality of the amazingly ambitious venture, capturing the inner workings of the World's Fair Corporation as if frozen in time. Contemporary researchers are presented with a model of the record keeping system of a typical pre-World War II office, dominated by the file clerk, the stenographer, the carbon duplicator, and the mimeograph machine — now, perhaps ironically, all parts of "The World of the Past."

You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet: Fun at the Fair

The Fair promised it all, and for many visitors, in the Amusement Zone, it really delivered. From the artistry of burlesque legend Gypsy Rose Lee to the police-raid-quality bump-and-grind of the Cuban Village, from the pageantry of the Cavalcade of Centaurs rodeo show to the elegant precision of the Aquacade's synchronized swimmers, there was something for everyone. Even children, who thrilled to the "ferocious animals" and "dangerous reptiles" at Frank Buck's Jungleland exhibit. But plenty of fun was to be had even outside the Amusement Zone, where amateur and professional musical and dance performances wowed the crowds, and contests awarded ribbons to everything from the best jitterbug dancers to the fattest baby.