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Perisphere Ponderings

World's Fair Historian David J. Cope has volunteered to transcribe all his research notes and lectures on the 1939 Fair so they can be added throughout the site in the form of Trylon Tidbits and Perisphere Ponderings.

David J. Cope is a retired history teacher of thirty-three years. His fascination with "The World of Tomorrow" translated into a month-long unit for his Junior Honors Government and Economics class demonstrating the use of technology and futuristics in governmental planning. David continues his research on the '39 fair in preparation for a book on the visit of George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the United States in 1939.

A Look Into "The World of Tomorrow"

"The World of Tomorrow" offered intelligent predictions of what the near – future would look like. While General Motor's Futurama out – shown all others, the fair corporation housed its vision, Democracity, within its iconic Perisphere.

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A Mud Puddle You Say? ↓

Once the fair corporation settled on the Queens for its "World of Tomorrow," it faced the daunting challenge of reclaiming a long – established dump into a successful site worthy of a world's fair.

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Billy Rose told the press the Aquacade contained the three things he most admired: sex, sentiment and curiosity. “Eleanor Holm in a tiny wet bathing suit is worth a hundred Sally Rands with or without bubbles ...

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A Tale of Two Pavilions ↓

The unfortunate destiny of Poland in the tumultuous times played itself out before the eyes of "The World of Tomorrow" fairgoers.

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AT & T

When planning their pavilion for the fair, Bell Telephone Laboratories selected one of their own – the very experienced John Mills – to design their displays. Mills served nearly thirty-years in the Bell system, having worked on the first transcontinental telephone in 1914 and the first transatlantic phone a year later...

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Attendance at the World's Fair ↓

On April 30, nothing seemed impossible for "The World of Tomorrow." But by early June, the fair corporation managers felt jittery. What was going wrong with all of their lofty ambitions?.

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Big Joe ↓vs. Uncle Sam ↓

For a country firmly embedded in the pre-war pacifist camp, the U.S.S.R. pavilion aroused American patriotic sensibilities like no other.

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Bill Robinson and the Hot Mikado ↓

The fair management made a terrible error when they decided to build the $250,000 Hall of Music in the Amusement Zone. Reinhard & Hofmeister, architects of Radio City Music Hall created an acoustical and comfort wonder: a seating capacity of 2,375 and a stage sixty-feet wide and fifty-six feet deep.

Read: Bill Robinson and the Hot Mikado

Closing Day ↓

The European conflict certainly put a damper on the final days of "The World of Tomorrow." Still uncertain which nations would exhibit in the Government Zone in 1940, The New York Times' editors expressed their belief the larger nations' pavilions would prevail, but, were concerned about those of the smaller nations.

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Designed to Sell ↓

John Sloan, a New York City artist, cynically observed: "The artistic taste of most persons in this country is formed by the illustrated calendars distributed by corner groceries." To overcome this charge of pedestrianism, the fair's Board of Design created a comprehensive blueprint for "The World of Tomorrow."

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Experiencing the World of Tomorrow ↓

Few visitors to "The World of Tomorrow" realized the fair planners of today often manipulated their fair- going experience.

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Fair Feet & ↓

Weary fairgoers often complained of a new malady – fair feet.

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Fashions ↓

Attending "The World of Tomorrow" meant a great deal of planning for the fashion conscious, especially where comfort was concerned.

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Father of the Fair ↓

A little girl's school lesson became a great dream for many – a world's fair in New York in 1939. However,"The World of Tomorrow" soon became a nightmare for its originator.

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Foreign Food ↓

"While most fairgoers enjoyed a hot dog and a Coke, more adventuresome foodees, often with deep pockets, could explore the world's cuisine in the international pavilions.

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King & Queen Visit the Fair ↓

The itinerary included visits to Mount Vernon on June 9, the 1939 New York World's Fair on June 10, and dinner at FDR's estate at Hyde Park on June 11, at which President Roosevelt served hotdogs, smoked turkey, and strawberry shortcake to their Majesties.

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Magna Carta

Great Britain exhibited its foundational “Great Charter” at the fair, emphasizing the Anglo-American friendship so desperately needed in the tumultuous times prior to World War II. ...

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Mickey & Judy at the Fair ↓

By August "The World of Tomorrow" desperately needed a shot in the arm to inspired visitors through its turnstiles. The fair got exactly what it needed when Hollywood's favorite juveniles appeared in The Big Apple.

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Nighttime Lighting ↓

In a determined effort to swell the fair's attendance, while equally increasing the fairgoers' pleasure, planners for "The World of Tomorrow" created two distinctly different looks for the fair: one for daytime visitors and one for nighttime patrons.

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Nighttime Water Show ↓

Unlike any previous fair, every evening the impressive light, sound and fireworks coordinated display at the Lagoon of Nations thrilled fair visitors.

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Nudity at the Fair ↓

Since the days when exotic dancers at Chicago's Columbian Exposition shocked fairgoers, the issue of nudity at a world's fair dominated the press coverage and many individuals' attitudes towards the expositions. The New York version was no exception.


Opening Day ↓

By 1939, the American public needed a respite. Although the GNP and unemployment figures improved slightly, every region of the nation still reeled from the ten-year Great Depression. Throughout the spring, Adolf Hitler's increasingly belligerent protestations, abetted by Mussolini's pompous posturing, and Japan's aggression against China threatened to embroil Europe and Asia in yet another worldwide conflict. With a sense of relief, the country seized on the New York World's Fair's April 30th opening as a much - needed antidote to its world-weariness.

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Planning Your Visit to the World of Tomorrow ↓

A trip to the fair was unlike any other vacation in 1939. The sheer magnitude of "The World of Tomorrow" required careful planning to navigate its many wonders.

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Racism: Hope for a Better "World of Tomorrow" ↓

As with every institution in the Thirties, the New York World's Fair struggled, often unsuccessfully, with on-going racism in America. Stereotypes continued to cloud the issues of employment, representation and the presence, or lack, of blacks on the fairgrounds. Yet, "The World of Tomorrow" did offer some hopeful signs for the future.

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Reactions to "The World of Tomorrow" ↓

A look at what people were saying about "The World of Tomorrow."

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Rosita Royce

No single employee at the fair demanded more press coverage than Rosita Royce, the exotic "dove dancer" at "The Crystal Palace."

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The French Restaurant ↓

More accessible today, France provided most Americans their first taste of their noted cuisine at "The World of Tomorrow."

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The Missing Fascists ↓

The only world power, other than Spain and China, missing from "The World of Tomorrow" was Germany. The reason why proves to be a fascinating look into the power politics leading up to the Second World War.

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The Most Successful Propaganda Campaign ↓

Gullible Americans unknowingly bought into the Japanese pavilion's propaganda campaign of peaceful relations between the two world powers propagated at the world's fair.

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The Orphan Pavilion ↓

The sudden annexation of Czechoslovakia by German left its pavilion in "The World of Tomorrow" unfinished. Patriotic Americans soon took up the cause of the beleaguered nation.

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Trylon & Perisphere ↓

The Fair's planners realized marketing the fair was essential for success and needed a recognizable "trademark" to do so. Following a number of unsuccessful attempts, the designers created THE iconic masterpiece of the Thirties - the Trylon and Perisphere.

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Two Vociferous Showmen ↓

Commenting on George VI and Queen Elizabeth's visit to the 1939 New York World's Fair, the king's official biographer, John Wheeler - Bennett noted, "From the moment of their arrival their destinies (were) in the hands of those vociferous showmen, the Mayor of New York, Mr. Fiorello LaGuardia, and Mr. Grover Whalen, President of the World's Fair."

And now, a look at those "vociferous showmen" who helped make "The World of Tomorrow" THE enjoyable diversion in the warm-up to World War II.

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Westinghouse Electric

The Hall of Electrical Power and the Hall of Electrical Living composed the two glass-fronted rooms of the omega-shaped pavilion.

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World of Tomorrow's Civics Lesson ↓

Proud of their region – changing accomplishments in the Middle East, Jewish Palestinians taught Americans about international politics now dominating the world of today at "The World of Tomorrow."

Read about: Jewish Palestine Pavilion Link button