Visiting the Fair
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.
Traveling to "The World of Tomorrow" was like attending no other fair. Reliable forecasters predicted 52.4% of out-of-towners would arrive by rail, 31.8% by car, 12.4% by bus, 2.6% by ship and .8% by air. In fact, with the North Beach airport only two miles from the fairgrounds and a predicted increase in air traffic, the U. S. Weather Observatory on Bear Mountain shifted operations to twenty-four hours a day.
Many wondered about possibly visiting the fairs on both coasts. Studebaker answered that query by sending four employees coast to coast in its newly designed Champion model. The trip east -bound and then west-bound took five days both ways. The auto averaged 27¼ miles per gallon, driving at an average speed of 40 miles per hour. However, few vacationers actually opted to visit both.
To aid inexperienced motorists navigate to Flushing Meadows, fair officials installed markers along ninety miles of arterial highways. The 18-inch steel plates read something similar to "World's Fair 18 Miles." However, irrepressible American souvenir hunters quickly snatched the signs from their standards.
Once in the city, many tourists found it expedient not to drive to the fair. With the cost of parking at 50 cents per day ($8.20 in 2016), the Long Island Daily Press advised: "The fair itself is a marvel – extraordinary value for the money. Don't miss it. But if you like to get your money's worth, don't take the automobile with you." Obviously many agreed as only 12.7% of the patrons eventually drove to the fair.
Actual traveling distances within the city to The World of Tomorrow were quite reasonable, however. From Times Square and Manhattan it was a mere 7½ to 14 miles, relative to the way taken, and from most of Queens only 2½ to 5 ½ miles. To expedite the trip, the city issued new maps of the Interborough Transit system in mid-April.
The Daily Mirror proclaimed: "The New York World's Fair is going to be a poor man's paradise, the lowest priced show on earth. Anybody with ten cents for a subway round trip and seventy-five cents for admission will be able to enjoy twelve solid hours of shows and spectacles."
Surveys in June found that once at the fair the majority of visitors actually stayed seven hours and thirteen minutes on the grounds. As the Depression was still going strong, most patrons needed to plan carefully their expenses. With the gate fee at seventy-five cents during the early months of the fair ($9.30 today), fairgoers spent an additional ninety-two cents ($14.75) while on the grounds per person. Approximately half of the additional money went for food.
So … what to do?
At first sight, the fair seemed overwhelming. Ernie Pyle observed: "The fair is so huge that your first glimpse of it from the train confuses and appalls you." According to total electric light output, visitors were entering the 16th largest city in the United States. And the popular columnist Louis Sobol proclaimed dramatically that "No hasheesh inhaler at the most ecstatic peak ever dreamed him a dream so deliciously fantastic."