1964-65 New York World’s Fair

The aroma of spices and sauces never imagined, the sight of a giant stainless steel sphere, dozens of multi-colored flags, and the booming voices of men calling the passing audience to experience a new age of advancement…all my senses were enlivened as we stepped out of the cab in Queen’s, NY that  hot summer afternoon.

It was the dawn of the space age and the theme of the World’s Fair was,”Peace1964 NY World's Fair Unisphere Through Understanding” dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe”.  The visual expression of that theme was represented by the Unisphere surrounded by fountains and presided over by those 80 flags of the participating states and nations. I was in awe as we walked that road toward the sparkling silver orb.

The day felt even warmer than its 85 degrees amid the throngs of people

Kodak pavillion NY World's Fair

Kodak Pavillion

moving from one pavillion to another. None of us minded, though. We were held spellbound at the sight of futuristic structures everywhere we looked. Most of the United States were represented and many world nations. We three girls, at 9, 12, and 18 with our only ‘fair’ experience being the New York State Fair in our hometown, had difficulty containing our excitement for the rides and exhibits we were about to see.

Robert Moses, dubbed Master Builder, oversaw the massive reclamationRobert Moses project of draining the Queens, NY marshland and cleaning up the garbage dump that it had become and, built Flushing Meadows Park, the site of the 1939-40 World’s Fair. Moses planned a grand park as a center of attraction for the people of the area. The 1939 World’s Fair turned out to be a financial failure, which left no funds for Moses to complete his project. The 1964-65 World’s Fair was his opportunity to finish what he began so many years before.

In order to earn enough profit to complete the park, it was necessary to run

NY State pavilion NY World's Fair

New York State Pavillion

the fair for two years. In addition they felt they had to charge site rental fees to anyone who wished to construct a pavillion. The Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), the international body headquartered in Paris that sanctions world’s fairs, refused to sanction the New York World’s Fair. The rule stated that an international exposition could run for one six-month period only in any given country within a ten-year period, and no rent could be charged to exhibitors. Seattle’s Fair in 1962 had already been sanctioned.

Moses decided to forego being sanctioned by the BIE, which meant many

Thai Pavillion NY World's Fair

Thai Pavillion

larger nations would not participate and risk conflict with the BIE. That left a host of smaller nations available to participate such as: Denmark, Austria, Sweden, Mexico, Spain, Japan, Plillipines, Thailand, Greece, Belgium, Pakistan, Africa, Vatican City and more. 

What do I remember most fondly about the New York World’s Fair? I felt like a princess with my first taste of Belgian waffles, the newest sensation, topped with real whipped cream and fresh strawberries. I remember riding through the General Electric “Progressland” where the audience seated in a revolving auditorium viewed an audio-animatronic presentation of the progress of electricity in homes. The highlight of the exhibit was a brief plasma “explosion” of controlled nuclear fusion. The loud crack that was produced made all the moms jump and the kids scream! Disney’s “Ford Magic Skyway,” used Ford cars, in an early prototype of what was later the PeopleMover ride system used in Disney World, to move the audience through scenes featuring life-sized audio-animatronic dinosaurs and cavemen. Needless to say, the Skyway was my favorite ride. Then, of course, there was It’s a Small World with it’s song that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since…”It’s a small world, after all. It’s a small world after all…”

Exhausted and exhiliarated at the end of the day, we left the Fair for dinner. Mom flagged down aHansom Cab Hansom Cab and we rode all the way to Manhattan to Mamma Leone’s Italian Ristorante on 48th Street. We descended the old stone steps to the dining room where we were seated at a corner table. The waiter took our order, which, I’m sure, was simply spaghetti. For a young lady of nearly 12, it was a gourmet delicacy that I enjoyed as we dined under a canopy of plastic grapes and leaves by the light of a single candle dripping wax on its wine bottle holder wrapped with raffia.  Dessert was spumoni ice cream, a first for me, a scrumptious blend of creamy vanilla, strawberry and pistachio flavors with almonds. We hailed an ordinary yellow cab for the trip to our hotel  where I experienced my first down-filled comforter. Unfortunately, it was too warm to snuggle under it. I dreamed of the day’s adventures and looked forward to the train ride home.

That weekend in New York City was a thrill for my senses and elevated my mother to the status of  “Queen” among moms. While we were away, she treated all of us girls as young women, not children. Then bragging to  telling my friends about my travels and showing off  them my lovely souvenier miniature Unisphere made me feel so grown up. I came home realizing the world did not only consist of what I saw daily in my neighborhood, but was a vast place with people of all races and customs…and really good food! I knew I wanted to learn more about those fascinating countries of which I’d only had a tiny glimpse. More importantly, I had my back-to-school ‘What I Did on Summer Vacation’ report nailed!

I saw so much more, but that’s best left  for another time. I will say that the

Flushing Meadows Park

Flushing Meadows Park today

Unisphere still stands in Flushing Meadows Park. You may remember it appeared in the movie Men in Black. The park is heavily used by the residents for walking and recreation.

Disney World and Universal Studios were influenced by the exhibits at the fair. It’s a Small World is an attraction at Disney World and Walt Disney used many of the techniques from the Fair to create the Pirates of the Carribean attraction, among others. Universal Studios has its own Unisphere and the Men in Black: Alien Attack attraction is based on a fictional World’s Fair pavillion.

If you were able to attend the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, or maybe the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, I’d love to hear about your memories and what you learned from it.

If it all took place before your were old enough to go, I’m so sorry you missed it, but I’d love to hear about your best travel experience as a child!

You know I love hearing from you and anxiously await your comments!


14 thoughts on “1964-65 New York World’s Fair

  1. I was 11 when I went to the Worlds Fair in 1964.Thanks for bringing back the fond memories of my youth, having gone there with my mom, dad, brothers and sister!!
    My mom and I remember the Belgian waffles.They were awesome.
    It’s a small world gave me one of my first glimpses (other than school) into cultures around the world.Traveling has been one of my favorite things to do since then.The thrill of meeting people around the world has always held a keen interest for me.
    I still own my mini unisphere.Also, a pencil case from there.
    Thanks for the memories!!

  2. As a New Yorker, I’ve heard tales of this famous World’s Fair but never in delicious detail like your post above. Thanks so much for allowing me to experience it through your preteen eyes.

    Coming from a large family, we didn’t travel when I was little. As I grew older and it was just my little brother and me at home, our parents took us to Pemaquid Point, Maine one summer. It was the first time I ever saw the ocean, and the first time I ate seafood (as opposed to “ice fish” from Lake Champlain). We camped in our pop-up camper, and the weather was beautiful the entire week–wonderful fun for an Adirondack kid.

    • Aww, thanks, Jolyse. Glad it gave you an idea of what it was it like. Your trip to maine sounds like so much fun. We went to Cape Cod a few times, but for a weeken. It was a 7-8 hr drive and we left Saturday morning and came home by dinner time on Sunday evening. My Dad’s (who hated vacations) idea of a vaca, so only Mom took us to the World’s Fair. Thanks for sharing that!

  3. The summer of 64 we drove from IN to Philly to pick up my relatives and then drove to NYC. We parked and walked in. All I remember at the age of 7 with 3 other siblings 8, 6 and 4 was the throngs of people. We lost my brother at the Sinclair exhibit with the dinosaurs. I think we lost someone else too but we found them safe and sound. the food I remember was from the Japanese Pavilion with its gardens. We ate dinner there and what a treat. I visited all the sights you saw with Its a Small World resonating in my head. The GE exhibit oh all of it…I will never forget that day in 64. Thx for bringing up such a happy memory!!

    • I’m so glad you went to the Fair! Long drive, though! You guys must have been wiped out. It was an exciting display of the future for sure! Wish I’d been just a little older so i could remember more of it. Thanks for sharing, Donna!

  4. Visiting the Space Needle is the closest I’ve gotten to a World’s Fair. I’m wondering if they even still exist! Sounds like you had a real adventure – thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Mark, I don’t rmember hearing about any and my research didn’t turn up any recent ones. Sure would be fun to go again though. I wonder if we’d have to worry about terrorist attacks this time, though!

    • It’s amazing how much of our youth’s experiences we store away, almost forgotten, until someone or something prompts the memory. I’m glad I was able to do that for you. Sorry you missed the World’s Fair. I hope there will be another in this country in my lifetime. 🙂

  5. My most memorable trip as a child: Camping in the wilderness where it felt like no man had gone before. My father strapped a twin mattress on top of the car for my grandfather (visiting from PA) and we drove 5 to 10 MPH on a two track road for what seemed like half a day, scraping bottom at times, to a place called “Mosquito Flats” in Southeast British Columbia. Once the tent and gear was set up, we each took our fishing poles and navigated along the creek’s edge. Our pet yellow Lab wandered at will. A flash of yellow in the bushes turned out not to be our dog, but a cougar. The large cat followed me down the trail until I dropped my pole and stringer of fish and forded the river, thinking that cats don’t like water, and hollered a warning to my disbelieving Dad. (Later, vindicated by tracks next to my gear.) Cougar wasn’t hungry that day … didn’t even eat my fish! I was eleven, my brother 5.

    • What a great story, Marion! Thank goodness the cat wasn’t hungry! I’m surprised your dog didn’t warn everyone about the cat…must he found something more interesting to sniff out or was taking a swim. 🙂

  6. Very nice trip down the nostalgia lane and a beautifiul visual picture for someone like me who never experienced it. I just feel like I did!

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