Promises Made: The 1964-65 World’s Fair

For kids of my generation, 1964 was a seminal year. That February the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show for three consecutive Sundays. And the following April, the World’s Fair opened in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, New York. For an impressionable 12-year-old, both events held a promise for the future and impacted me greatly.

The World’s Fair promised the future today, and in many ways it delivered. There I got to ride my first monorail, view the “near” future through the Futurama exhibit, speak and be seen on the Picturephone, and visit various countries throughout the world without leaving my hometown. We ate Belgian waffles, watched dancers from Thailand, and viewed the gleaming new Shea Stadium from the spinning Observation Towers high above the park. At the IBM exhibit we watched a film on computer logic by Charles and Ray Eames on nine connected screens, a precursor of IMAX.

Other promises were made: flying cars, jet packs, trips to Mars and beyond, underwater cities, robot laborers. A time capsule was placed in the ground—and, not coincidentally, one of the items was a 45 RPM recording of “A Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles.

Now all that remains on the site (the same grounds as the 1939 World’s Fair) are the aging Unisphere and the New York State Exhibit. Unlike the sleek, Art Deco–inspired ephemera left behind from 1939, the souvenirs, architecture, and printed matter from 1964 are an odd mix of ’50s kitsch and the International Style. Almost 50 years later, I am still waiting for those flying cars.

World’s Fair map. (Click to view larger.)

General Motors brochure cover and interior

Dress Up for the New York World’s Fair cover and interior


Postcards

Atlantic brochure cover


Envelope


General Cigar brochure cover and interior


Souvenir plates and ashtray

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for a great piece Steven… I had the opportunity to visit the ’64 World’s Fair on my way back from the Boy Scout’s National Jamborre at Valley Forge PA. It was my first trip to mainlad US (I lived then and live again in Puerto Rico). I’m an artist/designer (teacher) who always remember this experience as a turning point in my life. Also, still waiting for the flying cars.

  2. I was at the 1964 Worlds Fair, honeymooning with my wonderful husband…..did all of the things listed above, enjoyed the waffles, sights, etc…..many many years later, we were in Porta Rico and had walked into a chinese restaurant…there before our eyes was the set or display from the Chinese exhibit at the 1964 Fair…when we inquired as to how this came to be, we were told that it sat in a warehouse for at least 25years or more and that the restaurant was able to secure it…..needless to say it brought back many pleasant memories!

  3. It’s great looking back at what we thought the future would be like. Such a shame many of these things never came to fruition, but then again who could have predicted the Internet, mobile phones and the communication revolution.