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Seattle World's Fair

aka Century 21 International Exposition

Open from April 21 through October 21, 1962, the Century 21 Exposition was the second world's fair to be hosted by Seattle. Located on 74 acres near the heart of the city, the fairgrounds featured a number of buildings that were meant to be permanent, as opposed to most other world's fairs which constructed buildings that were meant to be torn down after the event. By the time it closed, a total of 9,609,969 people had passed through the Fair's gates, and it was one of the very few world's fairs to make a profit.

cover of Century 21 Exposition souvenir program
cover of Fair program


The idea of Seattle hosting another international exposition began with City Councilman Al Rochester, who had worked at and visited the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909. He proposed the idea in 1955, and by the end of that year a feasibility committee had been established. Public excitement, spurred on by effective advertisement, soon gave the project further momentum. In 1957, Seattle voters passed a $7.5 million Civic Center bond for possible fairground development, an amount which was then matched by the State Legislature. A theme entered on modern science, space exploration, and the progressive future was chosen, as was the site, that same year. In 1960, Fair organizers convinced the International Bureau of Expositions to certify Seattle as the official World's Fair site over New York City, which was forced to move its unsanctioned Fair to 1964. The U.S. government subsequently committed over $9 million to the fair, and a number of foreign governments, several major corporations, and 35 states agreed to participate. On April 21, 1962, 538 clanging bells, 2,000 balloons, and 10 Air Force F-102's heralded the official opening of "Century 21."


The centerpiece of the Fair was the Space Needle, a 605-foot tower with a saucer-shaped, revolving observation deck/restaurant at the top, which itself was topped by a 40-foot "crown of flame" natural gas torch. The restaurant, which made one complete revolution per hour, gave diners a bird's-eye view of the fairgrounds, as well as a vista view to the horizon that included snow-capped Mount Rainier. Designed specifically as the Fair's central architectural landmark, the Space Needle is still Seattle's most recognized landmark (without the torch, however).

To ferry visitors the 1.3 miles from downtown Seattle to the fairgrounds, a contract was signed with Alweg Rapid Transit Systems in Sweden to construct the Monorail. Although hopes that the Monorail would eventually become a major part of Seattle's mass transit system never bore fruit, the original line still carries residents and visitors today.

Space Needle and Monorail
Space Needle and Monorail

The Federal Science Pavilion was a five-building complex that was entered via five slender arching towers symbolizing "man's constant striving for knowledge of the universe." The pavilion was divided into six distinct areas: 1) the "House of Science" featured a theater with a series of films explaining the world of science; 2) "Development of Science" exhibits detailed the history and growth of scientific thought and effort; 3) The "Spacearium," built by The Boeing Company, provided a simulated flight through 60 billion miles of outer space; 4) "Methods of Science" featured examples of the work of 25 leading U.S. scientists presented in the form of dioramas, films, and a fully-equipped and staffed laboratory; 5) "Horizons of Science" was concerned with the present and future implications for the world in general arising from recent developments in science and technology; and, 6) "Doing Science" allowed children to do a variety of science experiments on their own, without their parents. There was also a NASA exhibit, with exhibits highlighting current satellite projects, the Mercury Project, and the planned Apollo moon-landing Project. The pavilion was refitted after the Fair and is now the Pacific Science Center.

model of the World of Science Pavilion
model of the World of Science Pavilion

The World of Century 21 Pavilion, aka Washington State Coliseum, was financed by the State of Washington. Although the building hosted several exhibits, two were literally "center stage": a series of 3,500 interlocking aluminum cubes arranged in a "floating" pattern from floor to ceiling that was meant to look like a city of the future; and the "Bubbleator," a large, spherical, transparent elevator that could carry up to 100 people at a time. Another Fair building designed and constructed to be a permanent part of the Seattle skyline, the Washington State Coliseum is now KeyArena.

World of Century 21 central feature
World of Century 21 central feature


The World of Commerce and Industry featured pavilions built by a number of U.S.-based corporations and organizations, as well as fifteen foreign governments and associations. The most notable of them were The Ford Motor Company, which offered a "space trip" in a 100-passenger spacecraft of tomorrow, and the Bell Telephone System, which presented a thousand years of communications history on a series of floating screens.

The World of Art was divided into five main areas: American Art Since 1950, International Art Since 1950, Masterpieces of Art, Art of the Ancient East, and Northwest Coast Indian Art.

The World of Entertainment featured a Playhouse that seated 800, an Opera House that seated 3,100, and an Arena that seated 5,500. The three venues hosted a wide variety of events and performers, including the "Ed Sullivan Show," the "Roy Rogers Show," the Ringling Brothers Circus, the New York City Ballet, Van Cliburn, Benny Goodman, Victor Borge, Igor Stravinsky, Ella Fitzgerald, and the Ukrainian State Dance. The Fair even provided a backdrop for the filming of the Elvis Presley movie It Happened at the World's Fair.

poster for It Happened at the World's Fair
poster for It Happened at the World's Fair

Collier's Encyclopedia 1963 Yearbook New York: Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, 1963

Seattle Municipal Archives

Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition
1964 New York World's Fair
Mount Rainier
Van Cliburn

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The Robinson Library >> Exhibitions, Trade Shows, World's Fairs, Etc.

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