Opening of the 1964 New York World’s Fair

U.S. #1244 pictures the fair’s iconic Unisphere – a 12-story stainless-steel model of the earth.

On April 22, 1964, the New York World’s Fair opened at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York.

Long before Flushing Meadows was built, the site of the park was a natural wetland that would flush the runoff from the nearby bay. It had also housed a Dutch Settlement named after the village of Vlissingen, which means flushing.

U.S. #853 was issued for the 1939 World’s Fair.

In the early 1900s the area was made into the Corona Ash Dumps, which F. Scott Fitzgerald called “a valley of ashes” in The Great Gatsby. Eventually plans developed to turn the area into a grand park, and the site was overhauled to house the 1939/1940 World’s Fair. (This the second World’s Fair held in New York, the first being held in 1853-54 in present-day Bryant Park.) The three New York World’s Fairs were the only international expos to span two years, while all others were just for one.

Businessmen with fond childhood memories of the 1939 World’s Fair developed plans for the 1964/65 World’s Fair. They gained support with promises of an economic boom and surge in tourism. While the fair received approval from the Eisenhower Commission, it was not officially sanctioned by the Bureau of International Expositions (neither was the 1939 fair). In fact, the BIE requested that its member nations not participate, and resulted in the absence of Canada, Australia, and the Soviet Union, among other nations. However, several nations with smaller economies were honored to join, including Spain, Vatican City, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Thailand, Philippines, Greece, and Pakistan, and Ireland.

U.S. #1503 was issued on Johnson’s 65th birthday.

The fair officially opened on April 22, 1964. The day’s festivities included speeches from the fair’s organizers, Nelson Rockefeller, and President Lyndon B. Johnson. As President Johnson stated, “The Fair represents the most promising of our hopes. It gathers together from 80 countries the achievements of industry; the health of nations; the creations of man. This Fair shows us what man at his most creative and constructive is capable of doing. But unless we can achieve the theme of this Fair, ‘Peace Through Understanding’; unless we can use our skill and our wisdom to conquer conflict, as we have conquered science – then our hopes of today, these proud achievements, will go under in the devastation of tomorrow.”

One of the fair’s most popular international exhibits was Michelangelo’s Pietà, on display at the Vatican Pavilion. There was also an ancient column from Jordan that still stands today.

U.S. #1244 FDC – 1964 World’s Fair First Day Cover.

The fair’s US Pavilion focused on President Johnson’s “Great Society” and included a 15-minute ride through history and a tribute to John F. Kennedy who had broken ground for the pavilion before his death. The US Space Park sponsored by NASA had several full-scale models as well as actual spacecraft, including a Gemini capsule, Aurora 7, an X-15 aircraft, a Lunar Excursion Module, as well as Mariner and Explorer probes.

Twenty-four states were represented at the fair, with Wisconsin bringing the “World’s Largest Cheese” and Florida bringing an array of wildlife. There were also New York City and Bourbon Street Pavilions.

U.S. #3188h from the Celebrate the Century – 1960s sheet.

A major part of the fair was the presence of American industry. Ford introduced its Mustang and IBM offered many people their first interaction with a computer. The Sinclair Oil Corporation sponsored a Dinoland exhibit featuring nine life-size dinosaur replicas. And Walt Disney created four animatronics shows, including the popular “It’s a Small World,” which was a salute to UNICEF and the children of the world.

More than 51 million people attended the 1964/65 World’s Fair, far less than the estimated 70 million planners hoped for to cover the costs of its operation. However, the site of the fair, Flushing Meadows Park, was seen as a major improvement to the city. Several of the fair’s buildings still stand and serve as museums.

Click here for more pictures and stories from the fair.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. Living in New Jersey at the time, my wife and I attended the fair several times, since it was easy and reasonably inexpensive using Long Island RR trains with connections at Penn Station. We sought to visit every exhibit and were mostly successful. Happily, I was an enthusiastic 35 mm photographer at the time, so we got to relive our days there over the years.

  2. As a Brooklyn boy, I visited with friends and family 5 or 6 times. My memories of the fair are not of individual pavilions (except for the Hall of Tomorrow) but of the entire site. Also, watching the extra inning game from the #7 train between the Mets and the Giants was memorable though very short lived as the train chugged along. Haha.

  3. I attended the NY Worlds’ Fair on my way from Oregon to the 1964 Boy Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania when I was just 15. I remember seeing the Pieta at the Vatican Pavilion.

  4. Another World’s Fair after yesterday’s Seattle post, and again in San Antonio in1968; so many in the US within a short time frame and none since then. Wonder why?

    1. The Opening of Disney World in Orlando basically spelled the end of World’s Fairs in the US, unfortunately. Knoxville, TN had a World’s Fair in 1982 but it was kind of flat. Epcot at Disney is patterned after the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.

  5. On an show from the original TV series: “Twilight Zone”, there is this passenger aircraft with the passengers onboard. The jet plane seems to be traveling at such speed, that it goes from one time to another (prehistoric). One of the times, the aircraft is in need of fuel. It radios the control tower for directions to land. When he (pilot) mentions “jet” aircraft, the response is a WHAT??? Jets were not in existence until the mid 50’s. The time is the 1939 Worlds Fair.

  6. My grandmother lived within walking distance of the Fair. However I was living in Sacred Heart Novitiate Leonardtown Maryland as a Xaverian Brother. We were not allowed to leave the Novitiate so we were never able to see the World’s Fair. After leaving the Order I have been able to see what’s left of the 1939/1964 Fairs.

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