Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Old Postcard Wednesday--1939 World's Fair - New York - Theme Center

Did you notice the Google Doodle for May 1, 2011 celebrating the anniversary of the first World's Fair held in London 160 years ago?

It was charming and reminded me that I have this old postcard from the 1939 New York World's Fair to show you. I think this is a particularly beautiful vintage postcard and so will remind you that you can view it in greater detail by clicking on the image.

The World's Fair that began in 1756 in London has continued through each decade since, with the most recent one, Expo 2010, held in Shanghai, China. For a comprehensive list of all world's fairs, that includes the notable permanent buildings built and more links to additional information than you might care about, click here.

World's Fairs held sweet importance in my mother's family because my grandparents lived in Berkeley and attended the Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915 before she was born, and my mother later attended several world's fairs and loved them. Now I wish I had notes identifying which ones she visited. I think one was the Golden Gate Exposition in 1939. That was a big year for world's fairs in general. According to the list linked above, the New York World's Fair depicted in this old postcard was one of six world's fairs held throughout the world in 1939:
  • New York, New York - 1939 New York World's Fair exhibits included The World of Tomorrow Futurama Trylon Perisphere
  • San Francisco, California - Golden Gate Exposition (1939) also called the Golden Gate International Exposition
  • Wellington, New Zealand - New Zealand Centennial Exhibition
  • Dresden, Germany - Deutsche Kolonial Ausstellung (1939)
  • Liege, Belgium - Exposition internationale de l'eau (1939)
  • Zurich, Switzerland - Schweizerische Landesausstellung (1939)
I found two fantastic websites that are dedicated to the NY Fair..... #1) 1939 New York World's Fair and #2) PM Photo--1939 World's Fair & More, a project utilizing "ReactionGrid" video and photos to simulate real-time visits to the Fair! These websites created and maintained by Paul M. Van Dort have everything you could wish for to relive beloved memories of the Fair if you attended it as a child or to feel every bit the excited first-time visitor. The following video is from his #2) PM Photo blog -- (Note: The video here is view-only. If you want to actually react with the video tour on his website you will need to visit the ReactionGrid web site and register to get your free Opensimulator Avatar. For more information click here at the PM Photo website.)

There is also an excellent tour of the Fair that is not video/not virtual world, but that contains other goodies at the #1) NY World's Fair website.  The following info is from the index page (I have kept the link hot so you can jump right to the tour):
    1939 World's Fair TOUR - Hailed as the greatest World's Fair ever held. Revisit this amazing time in our history though the 1939 World's Fair FREE tour. 
    All of the maps on this site have "hot spots" for links to other pages, as well a standard Menu of links on each page. Enjoy your "Step back in time" to look at the "Building of Tomorrow" from the year - 1939.
    [Movie Clip Icon]: When you see the Movie Clip icon, you will be able to view a short movie clip from on the Amateur movies taken at the Fair. These clips require QuickTime movie viewer to be installed on your computer. {The website gives you the link to install the movie viewer.} Editing and adding the movie clips is a time consuming process, I will make every attempt to add one as often as possible. . .

It so happens that April 30 was the 72nd anniversary of the opening of the NY World's Fair, and it kicked off a week-long celebration on ReactionGrid commemorating the opening. It is going on this week! Mr. Van Dort also has a World's Fair Blog where the schedule and updates for the celebration are noted. Unfortunately, the presentation that specifically covered the features on this old postcard was held on the first day, May 1, but you can catch the final presentation (by Mr. Van Dort himself) at 1:00 p.m. at the NYC Auditorium (I assume that is a virtual auditorium and, sorry, I do not know if you need to register for an Opensimulator Avatar -- link in paragraph above video -- in order to attend).

As a wrap-up, I found this background information on World's Fair in general quite interesting:
World's Fair is the generic name for various large expositions held since the mid 19th century. The official sanctioning body is the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE)

Of the BIE approved fairs, there are universal and international or specialized, lasting from 3 to 6 months in duration. In addition, countries can hold their own 'fair', 'exposition', 'exhibition', without BIE endorsement.

Universal expositions
Universal Expositions encompass universal themes that affect the full gamut of human experience, usually at a unique period of time for mankind. Universal expositions are usually held less frequently than specialized or international expositions because they are more expensive. To distinguish them from lesser fairs, they require total design of pavilion buildings from the ground up. As a result, nations compete for the most outstanding or memorable structure - . . .

With the 1980s and 1990s overflowing with expos back to back, some see the BIE's moves to only sanction expos every 5 years, starting with the 21st century, as a means to cut down potential expenditure by participating nations. . .

Whether or not the BIE will be successful in regulating expos to only every 5 years or so, we'll have to wait and may well be that Universal expositions will be restricted to every 5 years or so, with international and specialized expositions in the in-between years for countries wishing to celebrate a special event.

International or Specialized expositions
International expositions are usually united by a common theme - such as 'Leisure in the Age of Technology' (Brisbane Expo '88), and Universal Expositions are meant to be broader still, encompassing universal themes that affect the full gamut of human experience, usually at a unique period of time for mankind.

Specialized expositions have a narrow theme, such as the International Garden Expositions, held in Osaka 1990 and Kunming, China, 1999. Specialized and international expositions are usually smaller in scale and cheaper to run for the host committee and participating nations . . .

After the Fair
With certain exceptions, the majority of the structures are temporary, being dismantled at the end of the expo. Some outstanding exceptions are the remainders from Expo '92 in Seville, Spain where the 'Plaza de España' forms part of a large park and forecourt, and many of the pavilions have become offices for Consulate-Generals. The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is housed in the last remaining building of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition.

Some expo sites become parks incorporating some of the expo elements (Montreal Expo '67, Brisbane Expo '88, Seville, Spain Expo '92, Taejon, South Korea Expo '93, Lisbon, Portugal Expo '98).

Some pavilions get moved overseas, lock, stock & barrel; Montreal's USSR Pavilion is now in Moscow.



Owen said...

Lovely card Lydia, and an abundance of information about the World's Fairs over the years. When I was very very little my parents took us to the New York World's Fair circa 1965, but other than a vague memory of a day out, I don't remember any of it, was too small...

Was just reading about the Crystal Palace story in London, which was one of the very early historic buildings from the early years of the World's Fair tradition, if I understand correctly. Must have been a marvellous structure, too bad it is lost now.

mythopolis said...

One of the coolest iconic, and 'mythological' vintage cards I have seen in a good while!

Looking to the Stars said...

Wow, this was a cool post. I found it fascinating, thanks for the links and all the info :)

Hattie said...

Wonderful post! My mother worked in a concession at the Golden Gate Exposition.
The Panama Pacific Exposition is the one I would love to have seen. I have a book of photos from it showing those buildings that were all knocked down except for the Maybeck Palace of Fine Arts, which is now the Exploratorium.
I was thinking also about Thomas Wolff's recounting of the time his family spent at the St. Louis World's Fair and the tragic loss of his brother then.
What a lot of history this is.
I wonder if anyone has ever written a history of World Fairs.

Lydia said...

Owen~ That is wonderful that you attended a world's fair as a child. I'm glad you have that vague memory of it.
I am interested in knowing more about the Crystal Palace story and many other stories about world's fair structures. Hattie is right (comment below), there should be a book if there is not yet one.

mythopolis~ It sure caught my eye when I saw it for sale online, and I am happy to have it!

Looking to the Stars~ I'm happy you made a bit of an adventure out of this post. :)

Hattie~ There should be a book on World's Fair history if there is not one! It would be marvelous to be steeped in this history as a refreshing break from the present.
My grandmother purchased a gorgeous photograph of the Fine Arts Building while at that 1915 Fair and it was on walls in her homes all the years until her death, then was on the walls of my mother's homes (which means I grew up with the piece after age 9), and is now mine. I just went to get it to see if you might have a copy of this particular image in the book you own. The photographers names are embossed on the lower right corner: Cardinell-Vincent Company. The one I have is tinted the same as this one I found online, but there are no swans in the lake, and it shows more of the building to the right as it is a landscape shot. There is a decal on the back of the frame that reads: The White House Picture Dept. San Francisco. It is so very beautiful.....

bookmanie said...

"Your post is very interesting, but I have a off topic to introduce.
From 2011, May 1st, will be the anniversary of the beatification of Pope John Paul II, the first weekend of the royal wedding of England, and the death of a terrorist. In a way, the rule of three . It makes me think of the movie, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

Lydia said...

bookmanie~ Oh, I can always expect something out-of-the-ordinary in your comments. What a delight to find this one, as I have missed you. :)

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Herself noticed the google doodle (is that what they're called then?)

Here in the UK we had the Millennium Dome built for the year 2000 - it's since been turned into a concert venue. The general feeling at the time was that there was too much attention to various conglomerates of ideas, and no single vision

I went around the exibition there - and i have to say that there was no soul. It should have been left to the artists and the dreamers

But the O2 arena, whilst initially something of a failure, is now doing well

Lydia said...

Pixies~ Yes, upon doing a Google search for "that Google thingy of the World's Fair" I found the official Google Doodle site. Who knew?!

No soul. Now that is descriptive of an exhibition that I am glad I missed! I am glad the O2 arena found new life. Interesting story; thanks.

naomi dagen bloom said...

My little six year old self was taken to the '39 fair by parents. Powerful experience...Elsie the Borden cow was there, I think. Had my hearing tested, always a painful experience since had lost some the year before.

Mostly it was the wonder of its offerings. Could its sense of American possibility have influenced my utopian views? Trylon & perisphere as iconic have stayed in memory even though a visit to the old site reveals only the sphere remains in Queens.

susan said...

The postcard really is lovely and your post an excellent and informative piece. I can tell you worked hard on this one.

It seems to me World Fairs were a product of a more cooperative and positive time in recent history.

Phivos Nicolaides said...

Just beautiful and excellent post!

Lydia said...

naomi~ I loved your comment so much and lived in it inside my imagination to the point that I felt I had replied to it, so was surprised to see I had not! You are the only person I have ever known who was at the '39 NY World's Fair! It is really exciting to think that your "little six year old self" -- no doubt looking like the darling granddaughter you show us on your blog -- walked those grounds. (Sorry about your early ear troubles.)

susan~ You are very observant: yes, I did work hard on this one! But I was in flow because it was all such interesting info to discover. OPW is like that for me most weeks...I select the card and while I am scanning it I begin to wonder what I will be learning as the evening of research begins.

Phivos~ Yes, the postcard is beautiful! I am quite enchanted by it. Thank you for your appreciation of the post.

bfk said...

While working at the New-York Historical Society, I spent several weeks cataloguing all our 1939-40 World's Fair materials. It's been close to my ever since. Thanks for the memory, Lydia.

Lydia said...

bfk~ I find that totally amazing, actually. What an engrossing project that must have been. Altogether it seemed to me to be a fascinating-sounding job and now I am convinced of it.



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