The 1964–1965 World’s Fair in New York was conceived by a group of local businessmen who remembered their childhood experiences at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and anticipated an economic boon to the city as the result of increased tourism by holding another fair.
Robert Moses oversaw the conversion of a vast tidal marsh garbage dump covering 646 acres in Queens into the site that would host the World’s Fair.
Called Flushing Meadows Park, the site held over 140 pavilions and 110 restaurants, representing 80 nations, 24 US states, and over 45 corporations. American companies such as General Motors, Ford, IBM, Bell and Westinghouse dominated the exposition as exhibitors.
Wisconsin exhibited the “World’s Largest Cheese”. Florida brought a dolphin show, flamingos, a talented cockatoo from Miami’s Parrot Jungle, and water skiers. Oklahoma gave weary fairgoers a restful park to relax in. Missouri displayed the state’s space-related industries. Visitors could dine at Hawaii’s “Five Volcanoes” restaurant.
One of the most bizarre exhibits was the simply-named “Underground Home” (pictured) – a subterranean dwelling complete with night-and-day light dials, a grand piano and candelabras, pitched perfectly for the Cold War paranoia of the time.
By most accounts, the home – and the subsequent underground building projects the model was supposed to spur – were flops.
Unlike other free exhibits at the fair, the Underground Home charged a dollar admission. The New York Times reported that by the end of the fair, no underground homes had been sold.
The key structure of the fair was a 12-story-high, stainless-steel model of the Earth called the “Unisphere”, which was built on the foundation of the “Perisphere” from the 1939 World’s Fair.
The fair did not receive official support or approval from the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), which formally requested its member nations not to participate in the New York fair.
The absence of Canada, Australia, most of the major European nations, and the Soviet Union (all members of the BIE) tarnished the image of the fair, but it still ran for two six-month seasons between 22 April and 18 October 1964 and 21 April and 17 October 1965.
The admission price for adults was $2.00 in 1964, increasing to $2.50 in 1965. Admission for children was $1.00 in both years. More than 51 million people attended the fair – a significant attendance, though fewer than the hoped-for 70 million.
One of the fair’s most popular exhibits was the Vatican Pavilion, which featured Michelangelo’s Pietà, brought in from St Peter’s Basilica with the permission of Pope John XXIII.
People waited in line for hours to view the sculpture, with a novel conveyor belt system moving them through the viewing in an orderly fashion.
The fair was plagued by controversy during much of its two-year run and closed teetering on bankruptcy amid allegations of financial mismanagement.
Most of the pavilions constructed for the fair were demolished within six months following the fair’s close, but New York City was left with a much-improved Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, taking possession of the park from the Fair Corporation in June 1967.