top of page

Perisphere Ponderings

World's Fair Historian David J. Cope has volunteered to transcribe all his research notes and lectures on the 1939 Fair so they can be added throughout the site in the form of Trylon Tidbits and Perisphere Ponderings.

David J. Cope is a retired history teacher of thirty-three years. His fascination with "The World of Tomorrow" translated into a month-long unit for his Junior Honors Government and Economics class demonstrating the use of technology and futuristics in governmental planning. David continues his research on the '39 fair in preparation for a book on the visit of George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the United States in 1939.

A Look Into "The World of Tomorrow" ↓

"The World of Tomorrow" offered intelligent predictions of what the near – future would look like. While General Motor's Futurama out – shown all others, the fair corporation housed its vision, Democracity, within its iconic Perisphere.

Read: A Look Into "The World of Tomorrow" Link button


A Mud Puddle You Say? ↓

Once the fair corporation settled on the Queens for its "World of Tomorrow," it faced the daunting challenge of reclaiming a long – established dump into a successful site worthy of a world's fair.

Read: A Mud Puddle You Say? Link button

Aquacade ↓

Billy Rose told the press the Aquacade contained the three things he most admired: sex, sentiment and curiosity. “Eleanor Holm in a tiny wet bathing suit is worth a hundred Sally Rands with or without bubbles ...

Read: Aquacade Link button

Argentina ↓

An unusual international controversy developed in mid-May that eventually spilled over into Flushing Meadows. The U.S. Navy contracted with Argentina to purchase twenty-one tons of canned beef. When asked at his weekly press conference why the American armed services would prefer Argentinean beef over that raised in the United States?

Read: Argentina Link button

A Tale of Two Pavilions ↓

The unfortunate destiny of Poland in the tumultuous times played itself out before the eyes of "The World of Tomorrow" fairgoers.

Read about: Poland at the Fair Link button

AT & T ↓

When planning their pavilion for the fair, Bell Telephone Laboratories selected one of their own – the very experienced John Mills – to design their displays. Mills served nearly thirty-years in the Bell system, having worked on the first transcontinental telephone in 1914 and the first transatlantic phone a year later...

Read: At & T Link button

Attendance at the World's Fair ↓

On April 30, nothing seemed impossible for "The World of Tomorrow." But by early June, the fair corporation managers felt jittery. What was going wrong with all of their lofty ambitions?.

Read: Attendance at the World's Fair Link button

Belgium

The Belgium pavilion's colonial section drew undue attention from fairgoers. Present German, Italian and Japanese foreign policy tilted toward colonial expansion, searching for new markets and especially raw materials. Count Robert van der Straten Ponthos, Belgian Ambassador to the United States professed: “We maintain the open-door policy and all nations may buy and sell in the Belgian Congo on an equal footing with the mother country.”

Read: Belgium Link button

Big Joe ↓vs. Uncle Sam ↓

For a country firmly embedded in the pre-war pacifist camp, the U.S.S.R. pavilion aroused American patriotic sensibilities like no other.

Read about: The U.S.S.R Pavilion Link button

Bill Robinson and the Hot Mikado ↓

The fair management made a terrible error when they decided to build the $250,000 Hall of Music in the Amusement Zone. Reinhard & Hofmeister, architects of Radio City Music Hall created an acoustical and comfort wonder: a seating capacity of 2,375 and a stage sixty-feet wide and fifty-six feet deep.

Read: Bill Robinson and the Hot Mikado

Brazil ↓

Patrons at the Brazilian pavilion's restaurant took special note of “a striking woman wearing a tight turban and brightly flowered dinner dress” who left her table to perform an intricate Samba on the dance floor. This intriguing ingénue? – Carmen Miranda.

Read: Brazil Link button

Closing Day ↓

The European conflict certainly put a damper on the final days of "The World of Tomorrow." Still uncertain which nations would exhibit in the Government Zone in 1940, The New York Times' editors expressed their belief the larger nations' pavilions would prevail, but, were concerned about those of the smaller nations.

Read: Closing Day Link button

Chrysler ↓

Chrysler presented one of greatest interactive shows on the fairgrounds – the talking car. The car was put through its paces in a specially designed amphitheater meant to hold 700 individuals. Ray Parker, who acted as the interlocutor between the audience and the automobile, and Harry Greene developed the illusion. The car was entirely free of any wires and no one was inside the car. The pair of inventors never revealed how the illusion worked, but, Harry was never seen during any performance.

Read: Chrysler Link button

Congress of Beauty ↓

The Herald Tribune summed up the whole sordid affair: “The daring publicity stunt stage in the World's Fair amusement loop on Sunday afternoon, May 7, to call attention to N. T. G.'s “Congress of Beauty” seemed a lively idea at the time, but nothing except woe, trouble and disaster have followed in the wake.”

Read: Congress of Beauty Link button

Crosley ↓

Powell Crosley Jr. had but one wish: to build “a practical car that would not only operate at a low cost but sell at a low cost.” He exhibited his dream car at the Fair.

Read: Crosley Link button

Designed to Sell ↓

John Sloan, a New York City artist, cynically observed: "The artistic taste of most persons in this country is formed by the illustrated calendars distributed by corner groceries." To overcome this charge of pedestrianism, the fair's Board of Design created a comprehensive blueprint for "The World of Tomorrow."

Read: Designed to Sell Link button

Electric Utilities ↓

The Electric Utilities pavilion provided one of the most interactive exhibits on the fair grounds. Visitors entered the pavilion and suddenly found themselves walking through a gas-lit street circa 1893. After browsing through the wonders of yesteryear, they then exited through the electric company’s office into a modern-day street scene. Sound effects included horses on a cobblestone street and an un-tuned piano.

Read: Designed to Sell Link button

Experiencing the World of Tomorrow ↓

Few visitors to "The World of Tomorrow" realized the fair planners of today often manipulated their fair- going experience.

Read: Experiencing the World of Tomorrow Link button

Fair Feet ↓

Weary fairgoers often complained of a new malady – fair feet.

Read more about: Fair Feet Link button

Fashions ↓

Attending "The World of Tomorrow" meant a great deal of planning for the fashion conscious, especially where comfort was concerned.

Read more about: Fashions Link button

Father of the Fair ↓

A little girl's school lesson became a great dream for many – a world's fair in New York in 1939. However,"The World of Tomorrow" soon became a nightmare for its originator.

Read about: Father of the Fair Link button

Foreign Food ↓

"While most fairgoers enjoyed a hot dog and a Coke, more adventuresome foodees, often with deep pockets, could explore the world's cuisine in the international pavilions.

Read: Foreign Food Link button

Foreign Pavilions

In his end-of-the-season review of “The World of Tomorrow,” national columnist Earl Wilson noted: “Unquestionably, the Foreign Area, the Fair's greatest triumph, sprang from Grover Whalen’s selling genius.” However, this accomplishment did not come easily. Almost simultaneous events in the United States and Europe in late 1936 melded together to formulate the international exhibits in the Government Zone....

Read about the Foreign Pavilions Link button

Ford ↓

The Cycle of Production: which Architectural Forum deemed “unquestionably the most impressive display at the fair,” exemplified Henry Ford’s dictate for instructive exhibits, but, in a most innovative and entertaining manner.

The Road of Tomorrow: The hal-mile, spiral road of reinforced concrete and paved with non-skid Monocork, passed through a portion of the pavilion and then encircled the exterior garden and provided riders with the highest view of the fairgrounds from any pavilion.

The Novachord: Hammond Organ’s first electronic tube based instrument. Employing 168 vacuum tubes and circuit ideas borrowed from ENIAC, the world’s first computer, the novachord resembled an organ with keyboards rotary knobs.

Read about the Ford Exhibits: Ford Link button

General Electric ↓

Patrons entered a space with copper-lined walls, both inside and out. A glass protective screen separated the audience from the stage. And then five technicians, in a control room suspended above the hall, set forth.

Read about: General Electric Link button

General Motors ↓

One had to wonder when General Motors selected Norman Bel Geddes to create their exhibit for “The World of Tomorrow.” He had been tossed out of high school for drawing caricatures of his superintendent on the blackboard. And ... he was now regarded as a premier industrial and stage set designer, Bel Geddes might not have been everyone’s first choice. Thankfully the exposition gods on high blessed this unusual choice.

Read about: General Motors Link button

King & Queen Visit the Fair ↓

The itinerary included visits to Mount Vernon on June 9, the 1939 New York World's Fair on June 10, and dinner at FDR's estate at Hyde Park on June 11, at which President Roosevelt served hotdogs, smoked turkey, and strawberry shortcake to their Majesties.

Read about: The Royal Visit Link button

Kodak ↓

The Hall of Color proved unbelievably popular with its newly-developed sight and sound show. The performance utilized eleven specially constructed slide projectors at a cost of $100,000. Twenty-foot high and 187-foot long screens around the entire circumference of the hall, and over 200,000 slides. Eight photographers spent a year on assignment, collecting color photos of hunting dogs, babies, athletes, newlyweds, and every fantastic landform.

Read about: Kodak Link button

Magna Carta ↓

Great Britain exhibited its foundational “Great Charter” at the fair, emphasizing the Anglo-American friendship so desperately needed in the tumultuous times prior to World War II. ...

Read about: Magna Carta Link button

Mickey & Judy at the Fair ↓

By August "The World of Tomorrow" desperately needed a shot in the arm to inspired visitors through its turnstiles. The fair got exactly what it needed when Hollywood's favorite juveniles appeared in The Big Apple.

Read: Mickey and Judy Link button

Nighttime Lighting ↓

In a determined effort to swell the fair's attendance, while equally increasing the fairgoers' pleasure, planners for "The World of Tomorrow" created two distinctly different looks for the fair: one for daytime visitors and one for nighttime patrons.

Read: Nighttime Lighting Link button

Nighttime Water Show ↓

Unlike any previous fair, every evening the impressive light, sound and fireworks coordinated display at the Lagoon of Nations thrilled fair visitors.

Read: Nighttime Water Link button

Nudity at the Fair ↓

Since the days when exotic dancers at Chicago's Columbian Exposition shocked fairgoers, the issue of nudity at a world's fair dominated the press coverage and many individuals' attitudes towards the expositions. The New York version was no exception.

Opening Day ↓

By 1939, the American public needed a respite. Although the GNP and unemployment figures improved slightly, every region of the nation still reeled from the ten-year Great Depression. Throughout the spring, Adolf Hitler's increasingly belligerent protestations, abetted by Mussolini's pompous posturing, and Japan's aggression against China threatened to embroil Europe and Asia in yet another worldwide conflict. With a sense of relief, the country seized on the New York World's Fair's April 30th opening as a much - needed antidote to its world-weariness.

Read: Opening Day Link button

Planning Your Visit to the World of Tomorrow ↓

A trip to the fair was unlike any other vacation in 1939. The sheer magnitude of "The World of Tomorrow" required careful planning to navigate its many wonders.

Read about: Visiting the Fair Link button

Racism: Hope for a Better "World of Tomorrow" ↓

As with every institution in the Thirties, the New York World's Fair struggled, often unsuccessfully, with on-going racism in America. Stereotypes continued to cloud the issues of employment, representation and the presence, or lack, of blacks on the fairgrounds. Yet, "The World of Tomorrow" did offer some hopeful signs for the future.

Read: Racism Link button

Rathbones and the Parachute Jump ↓

New York radio station WOR was broadcasting live from the veranda of Washington Hall in the Amusement Zone late in the evening of July 12. A commotion around the nearby Parachute Jump caught the broadcaster’s eye and from a little past 11:30 P.M. until 4:45 A.M. the next morning, he narrated the thrilling adventure of two of New York’s most prominent socialites.

Read: Rathbones and the Parachute Jump Link button

Reactions to "The World of Tomorrow" ↓

A look at what people were saying about "The World of Tomorrow."

Read: Reactions Link button

R.C.A. ↓

The Radio Corporation of America pavilion.

Read: R.C.A. Link button

Rosita Royce ↓

No single employee at the fair demanded more press coverage than Rosita Royce, the exotic "dove dancer" at "The Crystal Palace."

Read: Rosita Royce Link button

Strange as it Seems ↓

Frances Murphy, the Bearded Lady, was on her way home at 3:00 A.M. Miss Murphey started up the steps of the 42nd Street subway station, when John Durkin, a chauffeur who had been drinking too much, tried to attack her. Miss Murphey confessed she slapped Durkin with the full force of her alleged 240 pounds.

Read: Strange as it Seems Link button

The French Restaurant ↓

More accessible today, France provided most Americans their first taste of their noted cuisine at "The World of Tomorrow."

Read: The French Restaurant Link button

The Missing Fascists ↓

The only world power, other than Spain and China, missing from "The World of Tomorrow" was Germany. The reason why proves to be a fascinating look into the power politics leading up to the Second World War.

Read about: Germany and the World's Fair Link button

The Most Successful Propaganda Campaign ↓

Gullible Americans unknowingly bought into the Japanese pavilion's propaganda campaign of peaceful relations between the two world powers propagated at the world's fair.

Read about: Japan and the Fair Link button

The Orphan Pavilion ↓

The sudden annexation of Czechoslovakia by German left its pavilion in "The World of Tomorrow" unfinished. Patriotic Americans soon took up the cause of the beleaguered nation.

Read about: Czechoslovakia Link button

Transportation Zone ↓

The Transportation Zone certainly solidified the grow concept that the United States was now an automotive culture. Although the zone contained major exhibits by the railroad industry (actually its last major grasp on the American imagination) and the burgeoning aviation industry, the pavilions related to the automobile dominated not only the zone, but, the imagination of the Fair’s visitors...

Read about: Transportation Zone Link button

Trylon & Perisphere ↓

The Fair's planners realized marketing the fair was essential for success and needed a recognizable "trademark" to do so. Following a number of unsuccessful attempts, the designers created THE iconic masterpiece of the Thirties - the Trylon and Perisphere.

Read about: The Trylon and Perisphere Link button

Two Vociferous Showmen ↓

Commenting on George VI and Queen Elizabeth's visit to the 1939 New York World's Fair, the king's official biographer, John Wheeler - Bennett noted, "From the moment of their arrival their destinies (were) in the hands of those vociferous showmen, the Mayor of New York, Mr. Fiorello LaGuardia, and Mr. Grover Whalen, President of the World's Fair."

And now, a look at those "vociferous showmen" who helped make "The World of Tomorrow" THE enjoyable diversion in the warm-up to World War II.

Read about: Two Vociferous Showmen Link button

Westinghouse Electric ↓

The Hall of Electrical Power and the Hall of Electrical Living composed the two glass-fronted rooms of the omega-shaped pavilion.

Read: Westinghouse Link button

World of Tomorrow's Civics Lesson ↓

Proud of their region – changing accomplishments in the Middle East, Jewish Palestinians taught Americans about international politics now dominating the world of today at "The World of Tomorrow."

Read about: Jewish Palestine Pavilion Link button