The 1939 World's Fair celebrated the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington as the first president of the United States. But the fair was more than this; the basic statement issued by the Committee on Theme declared that "The New York World's Fair is planned to be "everyman's fair' – to show the way toward the improvement of all the factors contributing to human welfare. We are convinced that the potential assets, material and spiritual, of our country are such that if rightly used they will make for a general public good such as has never before been known. In order to make its contribution toward this process the Fair will show the most promising developments of production, service and social factors of the present day in relation to their bearing on the life of the great mass of the people.
The plain American citizen will be able to see here what he could attain for his community and himself by intelligent coordinated efforts and will be made to realize the interdependence of every contributing form of life and work." From this inspiring determination arose the slogan: "Building the World of Tomorrow."
The Trylon, a three-sided pylon, stood 610 feet high and its companion, the Perisphere, measured 185 feet in diameter. The original plans called for a 700 foot Trylon and a larger Perisphere, but money ran short – and so did the Trylon. Designed by Wallace K. Harrison and André Fouilhoux, they have become the most recognizable symbol of the Fair. It has endured for the past five decades and will for many more.
That Pesky Pool
Confused by the music throughout the theme center and with no apparent orchestra or band, a Fair guide startled the woman by informing her the music emanated from the bottom of the Perisphere.
Three days before theFair opened, workers drained the water beneath the Perisphere to allow several dozen painters to apply a 600-gallon coat of royal blue to the lagoon for an additional esthetic effect.
A man, gazing at a passing aircraft, walked right into the Perisphere’s pool before the Fair’s official opening.
The second man to fall into the pool did so as he watched a young lady descend on the Helicline.
News reporters glancing over the Helicline’s rail into the pool below complained about the filthy conditions of the water.
A Union News Company truck skidded on the wet pavement directly into the Perisphere’s mirrored pool. An emergency truck took an hour of maneuvering to lift the delivery truck from the water.
Food for Thought
George Strohmeyer, president of Childs restaurant company, insisted the architects derived their idea for the theme center from a Childs chicken croquette towering over a ball of mashed potatoes.
Newspaper food editor Fredrika Borchard offered recipes for Cheese Perispheres and Cheese Trylons in her mid-October column “Savories ... An English Tradition.”
Delegates at the National Retail Meat Dealers Association luncheon enjoyed an eight-foot high center piece of the Trylon and Perisphere fashioned from hamburgers and hot dogs.
Managers of the soda fountain in the Hall of Pharmacy refused Jessica Connelly to serve her creation, The World of Tomorrow’s Sundae, to customers. The concoction began with a scoop of coffee ice cream (Perisphere) covered in whipped cream and surrounded by mint sherbet (the landscaping) and a red cherry (the early season tulips). Miss Connelly stacked wafers beside the “Persiphere” for the Trylon.
A waitress called out to the Ballantine Inn’s cook, “One spaghetti with meat perispheres.”
And in the Perisphere
People viewing Democracity often leaned over the railings too far and dropped items until the display, including purses, handbags, lipstick and hats. Two oddities – a floral wreath and a pair of dentures.
One Democracity viewer complained the futuristic vision showed football field, ball parks and tennis courts but no golf courses.
Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, finding no visible churches, observed: “Perhaps the church in the city of the future is to occupy the basement of one of the tall buildings.”
Democracity’s buildings were dusted every fourteen days.
When one letter writer to the Sun complained Democracity lacked rail service, designer Henry Dreyfuss replied: “The large building on the opposite side of the river from the city not only has docks to take care of water travel, but also has rail, bus, airplane and seaplane facilitates.”
During the winter off-season, the theme center acquired a pet, Purrisphere. When the weather turned cold on Lincoln’s Birthday, the little feline arrived at the Perisphere for shelter and the workers adopted her.
When the Democracity ushers left work each day, they donned special colored glasses to help them adjust to the sunlight. Due to the Perisphere’s air conditioning, set at ten degrees cooler than the outside temperatures, the workers also experienced near heat strokes for a few minutes.
A new product, Fluroglo, helped create the illusion of Democracity’s buildings lighting up at night. Alexander Strobl developed the paint which glowed when put under an ultra violet light but looked perfectly natural during the Perisphere’s “daylight hours.” The glow-in-the dark paint came in eight hues.
After the outbreak of World War II, Helen Keller reflected on her visit to Democractiy: “Even though I may not live actually to enjoy those garden cities and traffic safe and pleasant everywhere, yet that expectation in a war-darkened world in a spiritual Perisphere upon which it is a boon to rest my thoughts.”
What's in a Name
When asked which exhibit was the most unimportant at the Fair, an attendant at the Lucky Strike Pavilion answered: “The Perisphere. You see, it’s quite beside the point.”
As the Fair drew to its close, a worried fairgoer asked a police officer how many hemispheres there were too see. He reassured the lady there was only one Perisphere.
When a young man asked which was the Trylon and which was the Perisphere, his young date insisted “The Trylon is the long one. That round one is the Ferris Wheel.”
Somewhat confused between the theme center and Dupont’s latest discovery, one woman explained her friends visited the nylon and Perisphere.
When Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik and Mayor La Guardia posed for the news cameras, a nearby French woman exclaimed: “How they look like the Trylon and Perisphere.”
One confused couple on the Fair’s opening day found each other at the hypo and terrior.
An elderly lady confused one information guide asking for the route to the “Colon and Flouroscope.”
One very flustered woman asked an usherette at the Gas Building for directions to the Paris Fair. When Grace Odio carefully explained how to get to the French pavilion, the indignant lady pointed to a poster of the theme center and was on her way.
With the war on everyone’s mind, a European visitor reported to a New York friend he’d spied a German sub’s Perisphere on his transatlantic voyage.
A gentleman fatalistically explained the meaning of the theme center to his companion: “That big white ball is the World of Tomorrow. You see, we’re here today and gone tomorrow. That’s why they call it the perish sphere.”
Entrepreneur Charles Adler created a novelty gift “The Screwball” – a little silver ball attached to a little silver screw. Designed as a promotional gimmick for NBC’s Tuesday evening “Brain Trust,” the idea quickly caught the listening audience’s fancy when pictures appeared in the national media. The initial order for 10,000 screwballs was immediately raised to 20,000 to meet the demand.
It Could Only Happen Here
Helen Keller just missed being the 2,000,000 visitor to Democracity. The honor fell instead to George Haduck, a 13-year-old Boy Scout. After purchasing his ticket, ushers hurried him to the head of the line where he received replicas of the Trylon and Perisphere.
In a bit of pre-war propaganda, Japan’s world’sFair commissioner Baron Ino Dan informed the audience at the pavilion’s dedication the Trylon and Persiphere were the favorite symbols of Tokyo’s school children.
The Fair provided information guides at the theme center who spoke eighteen different languages.
Not to be deterred by an educational school trip to the fair, a young boy yelled, “Nuts to the Perisphere!” and trotted off to the Amusement Zone with his teacher angrily right behind him.
Columnist Charles Grutzner teased his readers, solving the problem of the meaning of the Theme Center as Jimmy Durante’s nose pointing quizzically into the world of tomorrow.
and Did You Know That ...
Young concessionaires near the Theme Center amused themselves convincing gullible tourists how beautiful the Perisphere became when it floated to the top of the Trylon. Expectant crowds always gathered and waited. One elderly man complained: “When does that damn thing go up in the air? I’ve been sitting here for three hours and it hasn’t budged.”
One disgusted patron complained to the bartender at the Savoy Dance Hall he’d visited “the huge snowball” five times and had yet to see the girly shows inside.
The Theme center framed by the Court of Communication pylons became the most popular amateur camera shot at the Fair.
The Trylon and Perisphere were constructed with 2,000 cubic yards of concrete and reinforced steel and 3,000 tons of structural steel resting on more than 1,000 pilings of Douglas fir creosoted for durability. The total weight for the two structures was approximately 10,000 tons.
Inside the Perisphere was the "Democracity" exhibit, a huge model of "The City of the Future– which would house more than 1,000,000 people. Outside the city were five satellite towns with an artery of roadways connecting them back to the center of the metropolis.
During the first season, an estimated 26,000,000 people attended. Admission to the Fair was 75 cents, but was lowered to 50 cents on October 1, 1939. The 1939 World's Fair covered 1,216 acres. It was three and a half miles long and, in some places, one mile wide. There were ten entrances to the Fair, which could handle a maximum of 160,000 admissions an hour.