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Brussels World's Fair

April 17-October 19, 1958

The Brussels World's Fair was opened to the public on April 17, 1958, by King Baudouin of Belgium. There were 47 exhibiting nations, plus the Vatican, international organizations, and private firms, on a 490-acre site about 4 miles northwest of Brussels. It was the 11th World's Fair to be hosted by Belgium, and the 5th in Brussels.

King Baudouin officially opening the Brussels World's Fair
opening ceremony

The centerpiece of the Fair was the Atomium, which symbolized the progess and advances in civilization to be realized through the peaceful pursuits of atomic energy. The 334-foot-tall structure was composed of nine 59-foot-diameter spheres that contained exhibition halls, a lounge, and a restaurant, all connected by escalators and elevators, and represented the atoms within a crystal of iron magnified 160 billion times.


The Belgian exhibits were housed in 36 pavilions distributed over 150 acres of ground. These exhibits portrayed aspects of cultural, economic, governmental, scientific, and social life in Belgium, the Belgian Congo, and the Ruanda-Urundi territory administered by Belgium. Of particular popularity was the reproduction of a typical old Belgian (Flemish) village, complete with cobbled streets, sidewalks, cafes, and night life.

a nun leads a group of school children in front of the Belgian Pavilion, decorated with a dove of peace and star
Belgian Pavilion

Flemish village exhibit
Belgian exhibit zone

The U.S. Pavilion, then one of the largest circular structures in the world, was 85 feet high, had a diameter of 344 feet, and a circumference of almost one-fifth of a mile. The ground floor and mezzanine allowed a total display area of 167,900 square feet. The 6-acre U.S. site in the fairgrounds also contained a large lagoon with some 50 fountains that was flanked by about 140 apple trees. One of the principal exhibits in the U.S. Pavilion was Circarama, a 360 motion picture theater designed by Walt Disney Studios in which was shown an 18-minute cross-country journey from New York to San Francisco. Another theater hosted American operas, musical comedies, a variety of musical artists and groups, etc. Other prominent U.S. exhibits were Island for Living, a group of displays showing representative scenes of American life; an electronic computer that demonstrated a knowledge of history; a color television studio behind glass; a children's creative center modeled after that of the New York Museum of Modern Art; and exhibits of architecture ranging from skyscrapers to individual homes.

U.S. Pavilion
U.S. Pavilion

'Whirling Ear,' a mobile by Alexander Calder in the pool of the U.S. Pavilion
Whirling Ear

interior of the U.S. Pavilion
inside the U.S. Pavilion

The modern architectural design of the Austrian Pavilion, which was designed by Karl Schwanzer, showed the progressiveness of Europe's ideas. It included a model Austrian Kindergarten, which doubled as a day care facility for the employees, the Vienna Philharmonic playing behind glass, and a model nuclear fusion reactor that fired every 5 minutes. After the Fair the pavilion was moved to Vienna, where it became the home of the Museum of the 20th Century.

Austrian Pavilion
Austrian Pavilion

Deviating from the theme of the Fair, the U.S.S.R. Pavilion featured items such as tractors and heavy machinery designed and manufactured in the Soviet Union, as well as an exhibit devoted to Sputnik II. The building was constructed in a way that allowed the Soviets to literally fold it up and haul it back to Russia.

inside the U.S.S.R. Pavilion
U.S.S.R. Pavilion

Dancers at the Turkish Pavilion perform a traditional high-kicking dance called "bar."
Turkish Dancers

The Siamese Pavilion, an elaborately carved and decorated temple, was a popular exhibit at the Fair.
Siamese Pavilion

King Baudouin

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This page was last updated on 07/08/2018.