Bringing World’s Fairs Back to the United States!

4 minutes read time
Six cheerleaders, dressed in red, white and blue, pose with two men on motorcycles with American flags. In the background, a crowd is gathered with a large USA banner in front of an exhibition space.
Performers outside of the USA Pavilion at Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Bringing World’s Fairs Back to the United States!

Imagine beholding the first X-ray machine, gazing at the height of the Eiffel Tower, marveling at the first telephone, discovering cotton candy, soaking in the beauty of Seattle’s Space Needle, and being the first in your town to use a touchscreen! All of this – and more – happened at an International Exposition (or World’s Fair as they are colloquially known). In fact, there is a long history of debuting innovations in technology, culture, and art at International Expos.

What is an International Expo?

Expos are large events from three to six months long, take years to plan, and feature more than 100 pavilions from nations, technology leaders, and non-governmental organizations. Expos are showcases of national pride, innovation, cultural heritage - and are a lot of fun! I recently had the pleasure of visiting the most recent Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan that concluded on September 10. World Expos are a big deal; with 73 million visitors at Expo 2010 in Shanghai and 26 million at Expo 2015 in Milan attendance far exceeded the 2016 Summer Olympics (over 6 million) and the 2014 World Cup (3.5 million).

Volunteers at the USA Pavilion Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan.

The U.S. Wants to Compete for a World Expo!

Closer to home, there is a concerted effort to bring Expos back to the United States. In May of this year, Congress passed a bipartisan bill (H.R. 534) called the “U.S. Wants to Compete for a World Expo Act,” which President Trump promptly signed into law. As a result, the United States rejoined the international organization that manages World Expos, the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), and is supporting a Minnesota bid to bring an Expo to the United States from May to August of 2023. The U.S. bid is a public-private partnership that enjoys strong national support from the U.S. government. We are hoping the bid will be successful on November 15 when the BIE member states vote on the host of Expo 2023. To help Minnesota and the United States win, the U.S. Department of State is leveraging its diplomatic resources to mobilize international support. 

The United States has a long history with world expos having participated in all but two Expos since 1851. The U.S. has hosted 11 world expos starting with the Philadelphia expo of 1876 and ending with New Orleans in 1984. Many Americans who have attended a World Expo remember the experience fondly, and I frequently hear that joy and excitement when I talk about our efforts to support the Minnesota-USA project. The Minnesota-USA bid is competing against bids from Łódź, Poland and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Each expo bid has its own theme, and Minnesota’s theme is “Healthy People, Healthy Planet.” Which is a fitting theme considering that Minnesota consistently ranks as one of America’s healthiest states and is a hub for innovations in healthcare delivery and medical technology.

The Road to Expo 2023

The proposed site in Bloomington, Minnesota is located just ten minutes south of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The location offers major advantages to a World’s Fair, including its adjacency to established light rail mass transit, lodging, attractions including the Mall of America, and easy and close accessibility to the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport. The location also allows direct access to nature and greenspace, including the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Expo 2023 will be a great opportunity for countries to come and share their best practices and innovations in the fields of health and wellness, and to gain exposure to the world’s largest economy. Domestically, this will be a chance for Americans to experience a unique global event, and the Expo will support an estimated 22,000 jobs and attract twelve million visitors – including 250,000 from abroad. Also, every expo has a lasting legacy and cultural impact; we can only imagine the types of inventions and landmarks that will be unveiled in 2023 and become part of our collective memory.

Follow along with our Expo2023 bid on Twitter @Expo_2023 or on our official website.

About the Author: Jim Core is the Director of the U.S. Department of State's International Expositions Unit in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.

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Jim Core

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