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Disney And The 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’

Walt Disney's Imagineers maintained a presence at the World's Fair, but why?

Chris Queen


March 17, 2014 - 2:00 pm
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The Unisphere served as the icon of the 1964-65 World's Fair.

The Unisphere served as the icon of the 1964-65 World’s Fair.

Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964-65 World’s Fair, which took place at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York. Today, many people know of it largely because of Walt Disney’s involvement in it. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at Disney’s contributions to the World’s Fair, but first, let’s glance at the origins of the Fair.

In his excellent essay on the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Bill Young sums up its legacy:

The Fair’s theme was “Peace Through Understanding,” dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe” and was often referred to as an “Olympics of Progress.” The theme center was a 12-story high, stainless-steel model of the earth called Unisphere with the orbit tracks of three satellites encircling the giant globe.

By the time the gates closed more than 51 million people had attended the exposition; a respectable attendance for a World’s Fair but some 20% below the projected attendance of 70 million. The exposition ended with huge financial losses and amid allegations of gross mismanagement.

Today the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair is remembered as a cultural highlight of mid-twentieth century America. It represents an era best known as “The Space Age” when mankind took its first steps toward space exploration and it seemed that technology would provide the answers to all of the world’s problems. The exhibits at the Fair echoed a blind sense of optimism in the future that was prevalent in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

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There was more to the 1964 Worlds Fair than Disney (although I do remember the "It's a Small World Afterall" pavilion) but it was Michelangelo's Pieta' that contributed to my faithwalk and changed my life forever. I wrote about it here in this piece (linked below) and have re-posted the World's Fair portion of my piece. So please do not overlook the Pieta' in your pieces about the World's Fair. The exhibit was one of the most popular at the Fair with the longest lines.
"The first seed was when I was nine-years old and my parents took me to the 1964 New York World’s Fair, a major national event that year. One of the Fair’s main attractions was a viewing of Michelangelo’s Pieta’.

My memories are of standing in a long line for what my parents told me was one of the most valuable pieces of art in the world, carved hundreds of years ago in Italy by someone named Michelangelo. Finally, when we reached the moving walkway, my young eyes gazed upon a white marble sculpture of a woman holding a dead man. I vividly recall thinking it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen — but had no conception of what it symbolized and did not know that the sad woman and dead man even had names other than Pieta’.

Nevertheless, the Pieta’ left an impression on the nine-year-old me that was indelible."

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