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GM Ponderings

General Motors' 35,738-square-foot "Highways and Horizons" pavilion contained the Fair's most popular exhibit entitled "Futurama." Here, in 322 moving chair-cars, each equipped with its own sound system for a "personal tour," visitors witnessed the largest and most realistic scale model ever constructed. The 1,586 feet of chairs rose and fell, sometimes to a height of 23 feet, while the visitor viewed the future world of the 1960s.

General Motors entrance
GM's entrance - Courtesy World's Fair
Historical Society - wf-018r

General Motors entrance
GM's entrance with the walkways covered - photo MO98 - from the collection taken by John Ott courtesy of his grandson Michael Ott.

General Motors entrance
General Motors entrance - photo 096

Trylon Tidbits

Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., chairman of General Motors believed Futurama to be “a symbol of progress which may be achieved through scientific approaches and research in many channels of our daily life.

General Motors spent twice as much on its building and exhibits than the total of Broadway productions in 1938.

John Mason Brown observed in his syndicated column: “One leaves this exhibition anxious to see it all over again; and feeling deeply indebted to General Motors. Even in a sick and despairing world, one finds the heart to have faith in the future and to be jealous of one’s children because of what they may live to see.

Norman Bel Geddes missed a major part of Futurama’s dedication ceremonies as he got “lost” trying to go down an up escalator, of his own design.

Norman Bel Geddes took his first ride on his Futurama creation on June 2. In fact, he only visited the pavilion two or three times during the fair’s fun. His favorite exhibit on the grounds was the New York Zoological Society’s.

Who’s soothing voice calmed riders on Futurama? Columnist Henry Beckett speculated it was Orson Welles who had recently “frightened a number of Americans out of their wits and their nitwits” with his radio program describing a Martian invasion. Mr. Beckett was close. The pavilion’s managers revealed the voice was that of Edgar Barrier, one of the performers in Mr. Welles’ Mercury Theater.

When asked by a GM attendant how she enjoyed the ride, one woman enthused: “I loved every moment of it.” The lady revealed she was Edgar Barrier’s mother and had waited in line, like everyone else, to hear her son’s narration.

The cold weather added an extra attraction to the end of the Futurama ride. When the chairs turned, a blast of cold air greeted the riders from the open doors into the “Street of Tomorrow.”

There were no flags on the exterior of the pavilion as Norman Bel Geddes ruled them unfit for a streamlined effect.

For those unable to attend the fair, General Motors produced a motion picture of Futurama entitled “Highways and Horizons of 1960.” Columbia Pictures released the film through its theater system.

Occasionally Futurama had technical problems and the ride had to be stopped. An announcer intoned: “Ladies and gentlemen, please keep you seats.” During the interim a Stauss waltz or Dvork’s “New World Symphony” played over the chair speakers. When the repairs were made, the voice softly said: “Thank you. You will now proceed along the highways of 1960.”

Comedian Jack Benny experienced one of these infrequent interruptions. To the surprise of all, he exited with a cigar in his mouth and not one wisecrack.

However, once in May and once in October, the problem was so serious that the voice informed “Due to mechanical conditions beyond our control, it will be necessary for those viewing Futurama to leave their seats. The guards will escort you to the exits. (there were nineteen emergency exits).” Also, the 3,000 people waiting outside had to be dispersed.

Every evening a cleaning crew scrambled along a suspended cat walk to clean the glass windows that stood between Futurama and the riders with Bon Ami. Repairs were made to the landscape as trees often tumbled over and had to be set upright or new buildings had to be added. R. H. Murray, head of the crew, would report the evening’s events to Norman Bel Geddes on a daily basis: “Rubber roads completely dusted,” “Twenty – six buildings re – glued to their bases,” and “Renewed snow on the mountains.”

Because the lights over the diorama caused its temperature to rise to 103 degrees, an elaborate air conditioning system was installed to prevent the buildings and other artifacts from collapsing.

Overly observant riders of Futurama often contacted the GM pavilion with complaints or suggestions for improvement. One boat enthusiast noted the sails on the boats were shown going into the wind. A number of individuals pointed out that the nighttime highways should have lights to aid motorists and, in this automobile age, no gas stations were shown.

Perhaps the most interesting complaint came from an Ohio resident who was furious the future had no churches. Bel Geddes assistants carefully pointed out twelve churches, including one in the rural scene, a monastery in the mountains and a Gothic cathedral in the final city.

GM Exhibit Building
The General Motors Exhibit Building - 1939 Brochure
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Things to see at the Fair brochure
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General Motors - New Horizons

In 1939 GM produced a film titled "To New Horizons" which takes you through a tour of Futurerama.

Here the a link to "new Horizons" on so you can view the film. The run time is 22:59. You can also download the film from the Archive site in a variety of resolutions ... enjoy.