The 1939 World’s Fair: Envisioning A Bright Future
At the tail end of the Great Depression, a former ash dump in Queens New York became the site of the 1939 World’s Fair. Groups from around the world, including government agencies, corporations, and civic groups arrived at the 1,200-acre location to construct the pavilions and exhibitions that would create “The World of Tomorrow” as imagined by a world just beginning to emerge from the Great Depression. The Fair, which intended to “show the most promising developments of production, service and social factors of the present day in relation to their bearing on the life of the great mass of the people” covered an area that was three miles long, and in some places, it was a mile wide. After it opened, 44 million people attended the World’s Fair.
The Fair opened on April 30, 1939, the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration, although some of the pavilions were still under construction. Approximately 206,000 visitors attended on opening day, and just before the Fair’s lights were ceremoniously lit on that first day, Albert Einstein spoke about cosmic rays. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the opening speech. In his address, he said that America has “hitched her wagon to a star of goodwill” and voiced his hope that the “many barriers of intercourse” between European nations would be broken down. The speech was broadcast throughout the fair on televisions, which were introduced to the public at the Fair. Of course, people were skeptical of these new devices, and so RCA created one set with a transparent case to showcase the internal components; visitors were also able to see themselves on sets. People were also introduced to View-Masters, nylon fabric, and the first fully constructed computer game.