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Who was the person credited with the concept of a world's fair?

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World's Fair
by E.L. Doctorow

This novel tells the story of Edgar Altshuler, a 9-year-old boy from the Bronx, and his adventures at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. On his first visit to the fair, Edgar is enthralled by industry's vision of the futuresafe, secure and prosperous cities, speedy and cheap transportation and modern invention to make life easier. On his second visit, he sees that the exhibits are constructed of gypsum whose paint is peeling and that the displays are really toys.
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1964 NY World's Fair

Travel back in time to the 1964 New York World's Fair and take a tour of the fairgrounds. Though not sanctioned by the World's Fair Committee, it was still a spectacular exposition.
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1939 NY World's Fair Snowglobe

Touring the World of Tomorrow
by Bob Brooke


The 1939 New York World’s Fair promised to be exciting and innovative for the thousands of people who passed through its gates. It presented “The World of Tomorrow”—a technological glimpse into the future. At the time of the Fair, the future was 1960. That’s long since past and the future is now 2060.

As it was planned, the World of Tomorrow was the world’s first interactive experience. Up to that time, visitors went to world’s fairs to look at things. But at this Fair, they got to take part in the experience.

The Fair’s organizers divided it into six thematic zones—the Theme Center, the Government Zone, the Communication Zone, the Production and Distribution Zone, the Food Zone, and the Amusement Area----each shuffling masses of people from one exhibit to the next either with roads or passageways for logical transition between spaces or with the flash of elaborate imagery that has come to be called "eye candy." The Theme Center, with its iconic Trylon and Perisphere, acted as the Fair’s focal point. The long promenade of Constitution Mall stretched from the Center to the Court of Peace, much like the National Mall stretches from the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.

The New York World’s Fair displayed products and ideas in a variety of ways. Exhibitors produced over 200 films for the it. Corporations created theatrical exhibits which pitted people against machine to promote their vision of leisure and efficiency through automation. Variety shows and musical revues, frequently masked as educational exhibitions, dotted the Amusement Area. Perhaps most striking were the dioramas, which presented Utopian visions of the future using small-scale models of towns and cities.

The Trylon and Perisphere
Fairgoers began their tour of the future at the Theme Center. Designed by the architectural firm of Harrison & Foulihoux, the Trylon and Perisphere, the only structures in the fair permitted to be painted pure white, reflected the emphasis on purity practiced by industrial designers of the day.

A giant ramp called the Helicline, which connected the 700-foot Trylon and 200-foot Perisphere, led visitors back to the grounds once they had visited the structures. Fairgoers entered the interior of the Theme Center by riding a portion of the way up the Trylon in what was, at the time, the world’s largest escalator. From the Trylon, visitors moved into the Perisphere to view “Democracity,” a diorama showcasing a planned urban and exurban complex of the future. While viewing the diorama, visitors listened to a recorded six-minute message of the future spoken by H.V. Kaltenborn, popular newscaster at the time, followed by a film show presenting "happy farmers and workers."

The Transportation Zone
While the Trylon and Perisphere represented the most recognizeable icons of the Fair, the commercial and industrial buildings dominated the site both in size and number; without question they covered most of the fairgrounds. These structures surrounded the Theme Center on streets with names such as the Court of Communications, the Avenue of Patriots, the Avenue of Pioneers, the Avenue of Labor, and the Court of Power.

The most popular exhibit at the Fair was undoubtedly the Futurama presentation at the General Motors Pavilion. Designed by industrial arts wiz Norman Bel Geddes, Futurama was a massive, 36,000 square-foot scale model of America in 1960, complete with futuristic homes, urban complexes, bridges, dams, surrounding landscape, and, most important, an advanced highway system which permitted speeds of 100 miles per hour.

Visitors viewed the exhibit from moving chairs with individual loudspeakers, taking in what was supposed to be 3000 square miles of American progress and prosperity, the virtual wonderland of the future. GM’s vision of 1960 wasn’t far off the mark.

Ford had just as impressive an exhibit. A half-mile winding road, the Road of Tomorrow,
took visitors on highways with spiral ramps which could take traffic from local roads below to the express highway above. Sound familiar?

The Ford Cycle of Production, a turntable 100 feet in diameter, weighing 152 tons and floating in 20,000 gallons of water, was the highlight of the exhibit. The Cycle rotated, displaying models telling the story of how the automobile industry spreads employment, from the producers of raw materials to parts suppliers to assembly workers to sales associates. Basically, Ford’s exhibit told visitors that technology was good for them.

While automobile travel took center stage, the Fair also showed how advancements in travel by air, sea, and rail would affect mobility of the future.

The Railways complex, the Marine Transportation building, and the Aviation building established a major architectural theme to be repeated throughout the Fair. The Aviation Building, designed by William Lescaze and J. Gordon Carr, appeared took the form of an airplane hangar while the Marine Transportation Building exhibited twin ship’s prows on its facade, emblematic of the massive ships of the future. The Railroads exhibit included the largest and fastest train of the day, Raymond Loewy’s 140-foot, 526-ton steam locomotive, the 6100. The Railroads Building, itself, was the largest at the Fair and included a 160-by-40 foot diorama with 500 pieces of equipment demonstrating the processes of a functioning train and railroad in a 40-minute show.

The Communication Zone
One of the most exciting areas of the Fair was the Communication Zone. Visitors saw for the first time, technology of the virtual kind. The telephone and the radio, both a part of daily life, played leading roles, as did the new medium of television.

As visitors exited the Perisphere's Helicline, they found themselves standing in front of the American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) Building. At the time of The World of Tomorrow, it was still common to have to connect with a telephone operator in order to make a call. The AT&T exhibition demonstrated advancements in person-to-person calling and long-distance calling by providing the opportunity for fair-goers, chosen by lot, to make a free long distance call from the Demonstration Call Room.

But the RCA Pavilion held the real treasure. Shaped like a radio tube, the RCA exhibition contained a massive glass window illuminating a mural dedicated to the accomplishments of RCA technology.

The newest technological kid on the block was television. In the original televisions, people viewed the image reflected from a mirror in the lid. The first public television broadcast occurred on the Fair’s Opening Day. Television, it seemed, could bring living images right into everyone’s homes. It was for many, the embodiment of The World of Tomorrow.

The City of Light diorama
Considered the world's largest diorama and stretching the length of a city block. The City of Light featured a completely lighted, colored, and animated version of the New York City. These buildings lit up the Fair and provided the power for Futurama, the new air-conditioning, and all the products and events. This was the land of research and development, the point of entry into the World of Tomorrow.

The Food Zone
Most of the buildings representing food and drink products lined Constitution Mall, between the Avenue of Patriots and the Avenue of Pioneers. This was the Food Zone. These weren’t necessarily restaurants or food stands, but exhibits about food production of the future.

The Food Building South was the highlight of the Food Zone. Designed by Philip L. Goodwin who also designed the Museum of Modern Art, and Eric Kebbon, Edward Durrell Stone, Morris Ketchum, Jr., and Richard Boring Snow.

Characterized by a massive Art Deco mural displaying farming and food production, as well as four giant golden wheat stalks, the Food building promoted the food of the future. On display were advancements in food production, new types of restaurants, and newly developed or improved foods.

The Continental Baking Company Building, designed by Skidmore & Owings and John Moss, showed red, blue, and yellow balloons like those on the wrapper of Wonder Bread. Inside the building, visitors could watch the baking of Wonder Bread and Hostess Cakes.

Other structures included the Heinz Dome, the Beech-Nut Packing Building, and the Schaefer Center, a restaurant sponsored by the Schaefer Brewing Company which seated 1600 and had a large, open-air bar.

The Amusement Zone
The Amusement Area, with its Fountain Lake, covered about one third of the Fair grounds. This area represented frivolity, among all the seriousness of promoting products. Billy Rose’s Aquacade, the highlight of the Amusement Area located near Fountain Lake, presented a synchronized swimming show complete with live music. It frequently featured a young Esther Williams and Johnny Weismuller of Tarzan movie fame.

The Government Zone
The Government Zone was the home of the pavilions of foreign nations. The central focus of this zone was the Lagoon of Nations, which was part of the Flushing River, and the Bridge of Flags, combined with the Court of Peace. More than 60 nations hosted pavilions at the 1939 fair, including Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Venezuela, plus a building representing the League of Nations. The fair also contained a Court of States with structures representing 33 states and Puerto Rico.

You Have Seen the Future
It has been said that a visitor to the fair could attend every day for two weeks and only skim the surface of most of its exhibits. The Fair’s symbols, the Trylon and Perisphere, represented the chief values of The World of Tomorrow—clarity, purity, insight, efficiency, and perfection. Some things perhaps only achieved in a utopia.

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