World’s Fair History in Our Backyard

5 minutes read time
Pedestrians pass by The Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in New York.
Pedestrians pass by The Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in New York City.

World’s Fair History in Our Backyard

Yesterday, staff members of the New York Foreign Press Center accompanied a group of journalists from Germany, South Korea, China, and India back in time -- to the site of not one, but two, of America’s World’s Fairs. Guided by local park administration, we were able to learn the history behind the World’s Fairs that had inspired New Yorkers in 1939 and in 1964. Through this journey back in time, the journalists were shown the linkages between the past, present, and the hoped-for future, as Minnesota seeks to host the 2023 Expo.

In 1939, and again in 1964, Flushing Meadows Corona Park hosted two of the largest international exhibitions ever held in the United States. Today, the park -- Queens's largest and most diverse -- serves as a vantage point for both the rich history of the Fairs, and the social and cultural lives of the seven million annual visitors to the park’s current sports fields, winding paths, lakes, recreational facilities, museums, and theater.

Flushing Meadows Corona Park Administrator Janice Melnick spoke to our group about the history of the park and its exhibitions, as well as current and future renovations being planned in the park. There’s something truly inspiring about a World’s Fair, a time when the world comes together to celebrate, explore, and discover the promises and opportunities of new technologies and partnerships. Being able to see some of the old exhibitions, and envisioning the future possibilities brought the previous history to life.

A foreign journalist poses for a photo at the Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The tour continued with a briefing and visit to the Queen’s Museum –which housed the New York City Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair. It was one of the few buildings created for the Fair that was intended to be permanent. It is now the only surviving building from the 1939 Fair.

We were all very excited to see the Panorama of the City of New York! Conceived as a celebration of the City’s municipal infrastructure by urban mastermind and World’s Fair President Robert Moses for the 1964 Fair, the Panorama was built by a team of more than 100 people over the course of three years and is an unbelievable miniature model of the city.

Panorama of the City of New York, which was built for the World's Fair in 1968.

As the journalists were presented some of the local history in connection with the World’s Fairs, State Department official Matthew Asada took the opportunity to brief the group on some background related to the United States’ experience with World’s Fairs, including the current efforts to bring the 2023 Expo to the United States.

Currently, the United States is one of three countries competing to host the 2023 World’s Fair, along with Argentina and Poland. The state of Minnesota has proposed a bid for a specialized exposition “Healthy People, Healthy Planet”, during the summer of 2023 with a focus on health, wellness, and medical technology. In May, Congress passed legislation by unanimous consent authorizing the United States to rejoin the Bureau of International Expositions, or BIE, which is the Paris-based organization that governs participation in the World’s Fair. The member states of the Bureau of International Expositions will select the host city during its 162nd General Assembly on November 15 in Paris. The Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will lead the U.S. delegation and make a final pitch for Minnesota.

A group of foreign journalists, staff from the State Department’s New York Foreign Press Center, and briefers from the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Administration pose for a photo in front of the UNisphere.

The Minnesota-USA project is private-public partnership that started more than two years ago and is a part of our global campaign to bring a World’s Fair back to the United States. Minnesota, home to some amazing medical technology companies and a region regularly ranked as one of the healthiest metropolitan regions in the country, is an ideal location for such an expo.

If Minnesota is selected to host Expo 2023, this would be the first World’s Fair to take place in the United States in almost four decades and is expected to attract 12 million visitors from around the world. Before you ask, as a native Minnesotan myself, I can assure you, that this will take place in the summer - so you don’t have to worry about the winter season you may have seen highlighted in movies such as Fargo or Grumpy Old Men. The summer season in Minnesota is a perfect time to partake in outdoor activities!

 

So many New Yorkers remember with great fondness their time and trips to Queens to visit the last World’s Fair, where among other contributions the Belgian waffle was introduced to Americans audiences for the first time! Hopefully, with a successful bid, Minnesota might be able to introduce some of our local delicacies to the world – wild rice and walleye anyone?

About the Author: Kathleen Eagen serves as the Director of the U.S. Department of State's Foreign Press Center in New York.

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