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New York World's Fair, 1964-1965

"Peace Through Understanding," with a dedication to "Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe"

New York's second world's fair was held on the same 646-acre site in Flushing Meadows (in Queens) where the 1939-40 New York World's Fair had been staged. The site is now known as Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It opened on April 21, 1964 for two six-month seasons concluding on October 21, 1965. Exhibitors at the Fair spent $350 million on their pavilions and displays, and another $150 million was spent by the fair corporation itself. By the time the gates closed more than 51 million people had attended the exposition.

postcard showing aerial view of the 1964 World's Fair
postcard from the 1964 World's Fair


New Yorkers began thinking about hosting another World's Fair in 1958, when it was noted that 1964 would mark the 300th anniversary of the changing of the name of the city from New Amsterdam to New York. An executive committee was formed, which subsequently chose Robert Moses, a leader in the formulation of city and state planning in New York for forty years, to serve as president of the fair corporation. Moses accepted on the condition that he be allowed to so manage the finances of the fair that at its conclusion there would be sufficient surplus to build a permanent city park on the fair site.

Because the fair was to make a profit (something no previous fair had ever attempted to do), every exhibitor, except for religious institutions, had to pay the highest rentals in the history of fairs for their space. Even foreign countries, contrary to the usual practice, were charged. The rental charges for international exhibitors drew the ire of the Bureau of International Expositions in Paris, which ruled that it would not give its approval to the New York World's Fair. The BIE also stated that only one fair could be sanctioned in a country in a decade, and the 1962 fair in Seattle had been granted official recognition.

The fair officially opened its gates on April 22, 1964.


The 1964-65 fair was designed to follow the shape and layout of the 1939-40 fair. The central symbol, the Unisphere, was built where the last fair's symbol, the Trylon and Perisphere, had stood. Like the 1939 fair, the 1964 fair had five principal areas -- Industrial, International, Federal and State, Transportation, and Lake Amusement.

There were a total of 139 pavilions at the fair, and 34 amusement attractions or rides.

Notable Architecture

For visitors to the fair, the first view was of a fantasy of huge spheres, boxes, cones, cylinders, ovoids, and curving pylons. Within the framework of the fair's theme, each exhibitor was given wide latitude in designing a structure suitable to his exhibit.

Architectural critics called the central symbol of the fair -- the Unisphere -- a "timeless banality," but it achieved wide popular favor. The 12-story high stainless-steel model of the earth was built and presented by United States Steel.

the Unisphere

The most universally praised building was Philip Johnson's New York State Pavilion, which featured 16 towers, each 100 feet high, supporting the world's largest suspension roof. Adding to the effect were three adjoining towers, the tallest carrying fairgoers 226 feet above the fairgrounds.

New York State Pavilion

For the IBM exhibit, Charles Eames and the office of Eero Saarinen came up with a large egg atop an iron forest.

IBM Exhibit

Other architects who won praise were Gustav Peichi for his use of laminated wooden A-frames and beams in the Austrian Pavilion, and Erik Moller and the firm of Backstrom and Reinius, designers of the Danish and Swedish pavilions, respectively.

Austrian Pavilion

Notable Industrial Exhibits

There were 40 pavilions in this area.

The popular General Electric Pavilion, designed and created by Walt Disney, had for its principal attraction a new kind of theatre mounted on a carousel which carried the visitors to six different stage settings. The one-hour show dramatized the changes electricity brought in American living with animated figures. Following the ride, the visitor was shown an actual demonstration of nuclear fusion.

the nuclear fusion demonstration at the General Electric Pavilion
the nuclear fusion demonstration at the General Electric Pavilion

The Johnson's Wax exhibit was built around an 18-minute film, To Be Alive, shown on three related but separate screens. The short motion picture depicted the joys of living shared by all people -- children at play in Africa and the United States, a joyful Italian wedding, and the thrills of an auto ride along a twisting mountain road, among others. It contained no commercial message, but because of its success the company realized enormous benefit from it. The movie even garnered an Academy Award.

Children loved the Pepsi-Cola exhibit, where Walt Disney designed and built a simulated boat ride around the world.

IBM used an unusual device called a "People Wall." After being seated on the slanting wall, 500 visitors were carried up into the huge egg-shaped structure that dominated the exhibit. Once inside, they were shown a 12-minute motion-picture and slide spectacular.

The Bell System showcased the history of communications, from smoke signals to satellites. The exhibit was highlighted by a demonstration of the "picture phone," an instrument through which the user could both see and hear the person to whom he was talking. A 140-foot microwave tower transmitted television shows originating at the fair.

Notable Transportation Exhibits

There were 15 pavilions in this area.

General Motors took its visitors on a ride into the future. Visitors were seated in moving chairs and passed along the simulated surface of the moon, explored an underwater region studded with luxury hotels, watched as the man of the future conquered the desert and the jungle, and passed through the city of the future.

Ford took its visitors for a ride in the new Ford cars, but instead of providing a conventional highway it hired Walt Disney to create a world of yesterday and tomorrow through which the guests would pass. The stars of the show were cavemen and roaring prehistoric monsters.

The Chrysler Pavilion featured an outdoor zoo in which giant insects were constructed from auto parts, with truck lids as heads, taillights as eyes, wheels as bodies. Visitors could also walk through a huge eight-cylinder auto engine model, and ride in huge car bodies through a giant-sized version of an assembly line.

the eight-cylinder engine model at the Chrysler Pavilion
the huge eight-cylinder engine model at the Chrysler Pavilion

Notable Federal and State Exhibits

There were 19 pavilions in this area.

The United States Pavilion included a ride through a maze of multiple screens on which a series of images depicting the history of the United States was projected. One of the most impressive exhibits was a computerized library.

The Illinois Pavilion featured an automated figure of Abraham Lincoln. Created by the Walt Disney organization, using a technique called "audio-animatronics," the figure of Lincoln rose from a chair and addressed visitors seated in the darkened auditorium. Other exhibits included every known photo of Lincoln and an original copy of the Gettysburg Address.

Abraham Lincoln in the Illinois Pavilion

Notable International Exhibits

Belgian Village, a replica of a Flemish town of 134 buildings -- including an exact replica of the 15th century Gothic Church of St. Nicholas in Antwerp -- was the largest international exhibition at the fair. The privately sponsored village offered dozens of shops and restaurants set along narrow, cobbled streets.

Belgian Village

The Spanish Pavilion featured an outstanding collection of art from Spain's museums, plus such national treasures as the sword of El Cid and the crown of Queen Isabella.

The Vatican Pavilion contained the fair's single most treasured work of art, Michelangelo's "Pietą," which had not left the Vatican since it was carried there in the dead of night by Michelangelo and some friends in 1499.

One of the Dead Sea Scrolls was on exhibit at the Jordan Pavilion.


The fair used as much electricity as Staten Island, as much gas as a city half the size of New Britian, Connecticut, and required postal facilities equivalent to those of Kansas City, Kansas. There were 40 miles of walkways within the fairgrounds, and a total of about 65,000 seats -- 39,100 in the auditoriums, 17,500 on benches scattered about the fairgrounds, and 8,980 on vehicles. Twenty-five thousand tons of steel were used in construction. Underground, there were 340 miles of electric cable, 14 miles of water mains, 10 miles of gas mains, and 28 miles of communications wire. Enough telephones -- 6,500 -- were installed to serve a city of 200,000. At five fountain displays, 147,000 gallons of water circulated each minute. There were 112 restaurants and 25 centers for the sale of hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream.

Britannica Book of the Year, 1965 Chicago: Encyclopędia Britannica, Inc., 1965

New York World's Fair 1964/65

1939 New York World's Fair
1962 Seattle World's Fair
Queen Isabella

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