1939 Worlds Fair

vintage ad  Rinso detergent

No future so bright and shiny could ever rust

Back to the Future

Tucked away among the flotsam and jetsam I have saved over the years is a pin-back button from the 1939/40 NY Worlds Fair stating boldly: I Have Seen The Future.

1939 Worlds Fair Futurama ButtonGiven to me as a child by my mother, this blue and white button, a souvenir from General Motors popular  Futurama ride, is rusted over now, dented, the type worn, an ironic symbol of our own tarnished future, a future that was to be so shiny and new it would never rust.

Step Right up to The World of Tomorrow

NY Worlds Fair Liberty Magazine

Nothing embodied the buoyant optimism and gleeful mass consumerism of the American Dream more than the 1939 NY Worlds Fair. Rising out of the swampland in Flushing Meadows Queens was a luminous statement of American abundance.

It was, as Life Magazine put it: “A boast by America about America for Americans.”

Dedicated to both the blessings of democracy and the wonders of science, its theme, “The World of Tomorrow” confidently celebrated technology and progress, transporting the dazzled, Depression-weary Fair visitor into the exciting possibilities of the distant future, a world dominated by leisure and economic prosperity that was within everybody’s reach, for all who believed.

Kodachrome American Dreams

1939 worlds Fair pamphlet

That wonderous World of Tomorrow, bursting with brightness and abundance, glowing with promise and hope, a spectacle of light and color so dazzling, it would saturate my own parents Kodachrome dreams  of a better world that had not faded over time.

This real life land of Oz became indelibly etched in memories of those who attended and in the captive imagination of those, like me, who didn’t.

Miraculously, that pushbuton, thermoplastic, aerodynamic supersonic electronic gadgeoic dream world as presented at the Fair would be mine.

 High Test Dreams

My parents enthusiasm for the Fair-inspired future was infectious and like any good fairy tale told to me as a child I loved hearing it again and again.

The story I would never tired of was about the fabulous Futurama ride, the centerpiece of GM’s  Highways and Horizon exhibit that had fueled the American public’s fascination with long distance, high-speed superhighways designed for the modern streamlined motor car.

1940 vintage car ad

These superhighways were the roads of the future, literally offering a concrete expression of the American desire of ever-moving forward. Not just speed…sustained speed, in the great American tradition of progress.

If General motors had any say about it, the bumper to bumper road to the future would be paved with smooth concrete; all that was required for that new world, that better world, was a full tank of gas.

Magic Motorways

With its irresistible imaginary flight across America, my parents would bring to life the thrill you felt flying over a detailed diorama of life in 1960.

Imagine being suddenly transported twenty years into the future!…to the heart of a great city!…in the year 1960!

Visitors viewed this 15 minute wonderland of superhighways, teardropped shaped cars , and sprawling suburbs, from an assembly line of comfortable moving chairs fitted with individual loudspeakers,

postcard futurama exhibit 1939

In a time when there was no Beltway, no LI Expressway, no LA Freeways, the sight of 50,000 tiny cars coursing endlessly, some at 50, others at 75, some at 100 miles per hour, crossing great freeways with wide sweeping ramps, 12 lane highways that traversed canyons on slim bridges, was breathtaking to restless Americans.

As the conveyor glided through darkness, snaking high and low over the model, it was narrated by an authoritative “voice from the future.” My father never failed to delight me with his imitation of the narrators deep voice repeating deeply and slowly: “A new world…a greater world…a better world…come travel into the future!…the America of 1960!”

Visitors came away from the Futurama exhibit believing in a not too distant future of 12 lane highways, air conditioned hi-rises towering over slum-free cities, a TV in every home, a glowing world of Atomic Energy, and a cure for cancer

Indestructible General Motors would steer us into the world of tomorrow.

“All eyes to the future” the narrator declared as the ride drew to an end.

Copyright (©) 20011 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved



2 thoughts on “1939 Worlds Fair

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