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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.

Damon Runyon informed his readers: "At regular intervals someone in our American cities feels the urge to put on a big show, usually in the name of an anniversary, but no great excuse is really necessary once the urge hits." The urge hit New York City big time, but, not before a questionable advent.

Arriving at her home in Jackson Heights just before supper, Jacqueline Shadgen sat on her father's knee. "Well, what did you learn in school today?" Joseph Shadgen inquired of his daughter. "Well, I learned that the United States is a hundred and fifty – eight years old this year, because the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776."

Joseph Shadgen expounded a quite different theory to Jacqueline: the United States should celebrate its birth with Washington's inauguration in New York City in 1789. And that anniversary fell only four years away. Joseph's wife announced he and Jacqueline should come for supper and yet an idea germinated in Joseph's mind throughout the meal. What if the city celebrated the momentous event with a world's fair.

An engineer by trade, this immigrant from Luxemburg thoroughly researched and developed his idea. He surveyed all five boroughs and settled on Flushing Meadows for the site. He spent hours detailing plans to carry through on his dream. Then, suddenly, the magnitude of a $40,000,000 project overwhelmed him. Shadgen decided to entrust his idea and follow-up research to a well-positioned business associate.

Joseph Shadgen and Edward Roosevelt first met at a Manhattan cocktail party. Roosevelt, a second cousin to the First Lady and a sixth cousin to the President, lived at the Seamen's House Y.M.C.A. Having worked in Europe for International Harvester for twenty years, the entrepreneur now served as the Y's recreational director four hours a day while searching for other business opportunities.

Over the next four hours at the cocktail party, Shadgen and Roosevelt discussed one of Joseph's many daydreams. Realizing wealthy individuals living in apartments had no suitable storage place for fine wines, Shadgen suggested developing a wine cellar in the basement of their multi-story skyscrapers. Roosevelt became enthusiastic over the concept and the two formed a tentative partnership.

However, the logistics for the wine cellar became daunting and Shadgen substituted the anniversary fair idea instead for Roosevelt's consideration. The proposal quickly entered New York's power structure pipeline.

Edward contacted his first cousin Nicholas Roosevelt, a member of the Herald Tribune's editorial staff. The former U.S. ambassador to Hungary appreciated the possibilities of the proposition and arranged a meeting with George McAneny, one of New York's most prominent bankers and civic boosters. Enticed, McAneny discerned if Chicago could entice millions to its Century of Progress exposition in the midst of the depression, imagine the economic opportunities for The Big Apple.

McAneny hosted a series of luncheons for the city's prominent civic leaders and money men. The idea for a fair caught on, but Shadgen and Roosevelt faded quickly into the background with each succeeding meetings. At one, Grover Whalen leaned across the table, condescendingly addressing the pair, "Mr. Shadgen and Mr. Roosevelt, I have great admiration for you. I congratulate you for spending so much time working for the good of our city."

On September 23, 1935, McAneny hosted a dinner at the Ritz, formally presenting the world's fair idea to sixty eminent citizens. McAneny insisted the proposed fair would not only stimulate New York's industrial recovery, but that of the United States as a whole.

The host then read a supportive telegram from President Roosevelt to the throng. "I have been very much interested in hearing of the possibility of an exposition to be held in New York in 1939 in commemoration of the inauguration of George Washington as first President. I hope you will keep me in touch with the decisions and plans."

A month later one-hundred and twenty-one investors, ninety-one listed in Who's Who in America, formed the New York World's Fair Corporation. Richard Whitney, the chairman of the bond drive to fund the fair, eventually wore No. 94,385 in Sing Sing for embezzlement in other matters.

New York host a world's fair? Not since 1853 when President Franklin Pierce opened the city's Crystal Palace! In 1910 Mayor William Gaynor suggested a similar idea that industrialist George Westinghouse squelched: "There are too many damned fairs now."

Some seemed skeptical of the enterprise. Life magazine insisted: "If the Roosevelt Recession should unhappily persist into 1939, the promoters of the New York Fair may console themselves with the thought that of America's five great World's Fairs, four have opened during a depression."

Even New Yorkers greeted the announcement with a gasp of surprise. The city had nearly 200,000 families "on the dole" and 150,000 persons on work relief. And, as some suggested: "Big expositions are usually an outgrowth of civic pride and of this quality New York has shown little consciousness."

And a few New Yorkers willingly conceded a world's fair to Chicago, as long as The Big Apple kept the world's series. But The New York Times countered: "A world's fair for New York in 1939 stirs the imagination." The only possible drawback – another world war.

But the corporation predicted big returns. "Careful estimates by engineering experts" indicated a minimum attendance of 40,000,000 with a "reasonable hope" of 50,000,000. And "an even larger attendance is not an impossibility." These enthusiastic projections would result in a profit of not less than $8,269,555!

A few weeks later the corporation named Grover Whalen its president and George McAneny the chairman of the board of directors. Initially Whalen boasted of being a "dollar-a-year man" but later reports indicated he received $75,000 a year with $25,000 in expenses.

Shadgen and Roosevelt received corporation employment at identical salaries – $625 a month. Roosevelt served as the Director of Foreign Participation. (He worked for the fair from March 1, 1936 to its conclusion on October 31, 1940, drawing $34, 375 for his services. He no longer lived at the Y.)

And as the fair's corporation shunted Shadgen and Roosevelt aside, they quickly altered the tone of the fair. Humorist Irvin S. Cobb noted: "It's customary before launching a world's fair or an exposition or whatever they may call it, to hang the excuse for same on some great event in history and then forget all about the thing that the show is supposed to commemorate in the excitement to see Sally Rand unveiled."

Grover Whalen professed: "We had to find an idea on which to peg the fair. We wanted something different from any fair that had ever been undertaken before." To that end, a year after its incorporation, the fair announced its new theme "Building the World of Tomorrow." Even that theme didn't last long, as the "Building the" was soon dropped. So, after the fair's opening, the loneliest figure on the Flushing Meadows fairgrounds was the thirty-eight foot statue of George Washington.

For nine months the corporation employed Joseph Shadgen, the "Father of the Fair," in its engineering department. "I had nothing to do and sat at my desk from 9 A.M. until 5 P.M. That was like being in jail for a man of my temperament." Complaints that he only sharpened pencils drew a dismissal notice from general manager W. Earle Andrews.

Undeterred by the fact he had signed away all rights to his idea, Shadgen hired Queens attorney Nathan A. Goldenthall and sued the fair corporation for $1,000,000. The corporation and Shadgen eventually arrived at a settlement of $45,000. Very bitter, Shadgen proclaimed: "We won't go anywhere near the place. they pirated our idea. Let them enjoy their party. And Mrs. Shadgen bristled: "We've been treated so badly that we can never forgive."

When the fair closed in 1940, Shadgen admitted to visiting the Luxemburg exhibit the day before the fair's official opening in 1939, but, he never set foot on the grounds again. "I have had no wish to see it. To me it is sometimes like a bad dream – other times, just one of those very, very funny stories that can happen in the big city."