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Con Edison - City of Light - 1939 New York World's Fair
Con Edison - City of Light
1939 New York World's Fair

Con Ed’s “The City of Light” was the largest diorama up to that time. The fourteen-minute show presented the illusion of watching New York City through a twenty-four hour cycle. Originally designed to be continuous, a break of a few minutes was required as visitors tended to stay and watch the subway cars wiz by.

Walter Dorwin Teague designed the diorama which consisted of 4,000 buildings built to perspective, with the Empire State Building the tallest, taking up twenty-two feet to represent its 102 stories.

The diorama used enough electricity in a day to illuminate a 1,200 family apartment building, a village of 4,000 individuals or all of the street lights on 5th Avenue. Not all of the buildings, however, were “lit” during the night time sequence. Thousands of spots of fluorescent paint brightened by ultra violet lights helped create the illusion of light on the “distant” buildings.

Within the huge diorama, seven operating sub-dioramas highlighted the city at work. These included a newspaper printing room where the Brooklyn Eagle existed, a Brooklyn home with the family listening to the radio and an hospital operating room.

Six-car subway trains sped along the scale model to the equivalent of 30 mph. However, as in real life, accidents did happen. One set of cars crashed into another set, causing an hour’s delay while technicians corrected the situation. Also, the designers soon discovered that the viewing floor should have been sloped, as those attendees in the rear could not see the subway cars speeding by at the bottom of the diorama.

David J. Cope
Author - Historian

Con Edison - City of Light - 1939 New York World's Fair
Con Edison - City of Light
photo 033 by Arie Van Dort
Trylon Tidbits

The noisiest place on the fairgrounds was The Plaza of Light. Consolidated Edison’s façade fountains, the Electric Utility Building’s cascade, the central plaza fountain and the diesel engines of the Petroleum Exhibit created the din.

On June 11, Con Ed turned off its wall of water due to high winds and the fear patrons would be sprayed.

The exterior “water ballet” took place in the 200 foot long by 50-foot wide basin that spanned the pavilion’s exterior. Jets of water five feet apart could spray streams up the full height of the forty-foot building. Various effects were produced by strategically placed jets throughout the basin. The five minute performance was followed by a fifteen-minute “intermission” so fair visitors could enter “The City of Light” exhibit and others view the ballet.

To celebrate Consolidated Edison System Day on September 11, NBC introduced a new television technique: combining “spot news” with a studio presentation. The network broadcast from Con Ed’s “The City of Light” and the Ford pavilion on the fairgrounds and anchored the show from its studios at Radio City.

Con Edison - City of Light - 1939 New York World's Fair
2 Fair cars in front of Con Ed  - photo MO106 -
from the collection taken by John Ott courtesy of his grandson Michael Ott.

Con Edison - City of Light - 1939 New York World's Fair
Con Edison - City of Light - Courtesy World's Fair Historical Society - wf-086r

Crowd outside of the Con Ed City of LIght Pavilion
Crowd outside of the Con Ed  City of Light Pavilion

Con-Ed City of Light - Advertising Flyer

Con-Ed City of Light - Advertising Flyer
Click the image for a larger view
Courtesy of Randy Richter