On April 30, 1939 the New York World’s Fair opened on a 1,216 acre site of reclaimed dump that was described by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the 1925 novel The Great Gatsby as “the valley of ashes”. It was a monumental undertaking that was completed in less than five years. The fair was dominated by the Trylon and Perisphere, a 610 foot obelisk and 180 foot diameter sphere. It was the Theme Center and iconic symbol of the fair and was prominently depicted on most of the souvenirs sold.
For background on the fair here are links to a few excellent websites –
“The World of Tomorrow” was exemplified by the transportation zone and especially General Motors’ huge pavilion that contained the most popular exhibit at the fair, Norman Bel Geddes’ Futurama, a look into the United States of 1960. The fair left indelible memories for everyone who attended it, and they purchased a variety of items to remember their trip to the future, like those pictured below.
The Kan-O-Seat was purchased at an antique mall in Red Bank, New Jersey in 1985. This must have come in handy while waiting in the hours long line to see Futurama.
I have several items from the fair made of SyrocoWood, a compressed, molded wood pulp that looked liked carved wood. Syroco, Inc. was a Syracuse, New York company that produced giftware, including many different souvenirs for the fair. Here are some examples from my collection.
When Chris and I were in Michigan a couple of years ago, we came across this game at an antique mall for five dollars. I haven’t played it as yet.
On the same trip, I also purchased this Pathegram film viewer with three rolls of film. Licensed from Pathe, one viewed still images on little rolls of 16mm film through a red and black bakelite viewer.
The were many different picture books for sale at the fair, I bought this one, that was still inside it’s original mailing envelope.
One of my earliest World’s Fair souvenirs, the Dunhill Silent Flame Table lighter, was bought in 1975 for four dollars at the Englishtown Auction (it is just a large flea market) located in central New Jersey. The base is made of black bakelite which is usually topped by a fan dancer. This version replaced her with the Trylon and Perisphere. It worked on two “c” cell batteries. To operate it, one takes the wand (which is filled with lighter fluid) out of the base resting it on the rail and touching the end to the metal figure in the middle completing the electrical contact and igniting the wand.
Probably my most unusual World’s Fair tie-in collectible is my Bissell “Thirty-Nine” carpet sweeper. In a time when they had electric vacuum cleaners nothing said the future or “The World of Tomorrow” more than a carpet sweeper (?). I had never seen one before and have never seen one since, so I’m glad I swept it up (pun intended).
The American Potters exhibit showcased the works of several important pottery companies, including Homer Laughlin (the makers of Fiestaware), which made this souvenir plate – and in my opinion – the nicest of all the World’s Fair plates.
The fair closed at the end of its second season, on October 27, 1940. Today at Flushing Meadow Park, very little remains from the 1939-1940 fair. The New York City Building, which houses the Queens Museum, is the only structure left. So it is left to all the films, photos and souvenirs to remind us of a long gone “World of Tomorrow”.
Chris & Anthony (The Freakin’, Tiquen’ Guys)
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