Archived Story

Celebrating New York’s World Fair

Published 9:41am Thursday, May 22, 2014

Right after school got out in June of 1965, I flew alone out of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport aboard a TWA 727 and landed at the brand new terminal at New York’s JFK airport.

Waiting for me were my relatives living in nearby Westport, Connecticut. I was going to the New York World’s Fair!

The New York World’s Fair must have had a major impact on me, because I remember just about everything. But looking back 50 years, I realize how much our culture has changed.

For example, each passenger on the TWA flight was given a complimentary carry-on bag that contained toiletries, maps and promotional material. Today, we have to pay to bring aboard a carry-on bag.

I wore a suit as did every other male on the jet, and the women all wore hats and gloves. There were no metal detectors.

There is now no TWA.

The highlights of the World’s Fair were the commercial buildings, especially the General Motors Pavilion, the Ford Motor Pavilion and the General Electric Carousel of Progress. These three popular exhibits transported passengers in trams through displays of what the future would be like in 50 years, through the mind of Walt Disney. It was all flying cars, robotic maids, picture phones and jet-packs.

There were no pavilions or displays from oil companies. There was no mention of partisan politics, health care, the environment, space travel, ecology or energy development anywhere on the fairgrounds.

The Internet was unheard of, and there was nothing about reproductive rights, world hunger, gender identity, immigration, video games or reality TV.

The only computer I can remember was housed in the Parker Pen Pavilion. This computer found pen pals for anyone who filled out a form. I was given a card from the computer that closely matched my own criteria.

The name on the card was a 14-year-old surgeon’s son from Madras, India. His lyrical address still sticks with me: 10 Vinayaka Mudali Street, Madras 28 India. Madras is now called Chennai.

Walt Disney’s magic was everywhere. The Illinois Pavilion featured the first animatronic Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln stood up and talked! Another exhibit featured “It’s a Small World” with animatronic children from around the world singing that ubiquitous song over and over again. That feature still runs at all Disney theme parks. Over and over and over again. If you have experienced “It’s a Small World” you know what I am talking about.

I imagine if we had a New York World’s Fair today, it would be designed by Steven Spielberg and would feature his vision of society 50 years from now, in 2065. I am almost certain Mr. Spielberg would get the vision as wrong as Mr. Disney did 50 years ago. At least Walt got the picture phone right.

 

A native of Niles, Jack Strayer moved back home in 2009 after living and working in Washington DC since 1976. Strayer has served as a congressional staffer, state legislative press secretary, federal registered lobbyist and Vice President of the National Center for Policy Analysis. He is a nationally recognized expert on federal health policy reform and led the fight for the enactment of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

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