Color TVs? Picture phones? Emerging tech from 1964 N.Y. World’s Fair Remembered

This month marks the 50-year anniversary of the New York World’s Fair, an event that offered a glimpse of future technology and wowed the minds of millions. More than 50 million people from around the world converged at Flushing Meadows–Corona Park in Queens, New York, for the fair’s opening on April 22, 1964.

The overarching theme of the fair was “peace through understanding,” which was symbolized by the 12-story high, stainless-steel model of the Earth called the Unisphere (for non-residents, you probably remember it from the movie, Men in Black). The fair also had the themes “Man’s Achievements in an Expanding Universe” and “A Millennium of Progress,” which commemorated the potential of human betterment through science and technology after the end of World War II.

American companies utilized the World’s Fair as a platform to rouse spectators with new innovations and concepts. Among the fair’s most popular attractions was the official introduction of the 1965 Ford Mustang, which later became one of the most iconic automobiles of all time. (The Mustang was unveiled on April 17, 1964 and originally retailed at $2,368.)

Another popular sight was the Vatican Pavilion, where Michelangelo’s “Pieta” sculpture was displayed for the first time in America.

One of the best-remembered exhibitors was Walt Disney Productions, which debuted the “It’s a Small World” attraction – it featured a pioneering system of audio-animatronics also used in the Illinois Pavilion, which featured a lifelike figure of Abraham Lincoln reciting the Gettysburg Address. (Much of the Disney exhibit would later find their way to Disney’s theme parks.)

Fair patrons were dazzled when seeing themselves on RCA’s color television, and the Bell System envisioned an early picture phone that allowed two people to speak and see each other. The Picturephone from Bell was before its time, but the idea was refined decades later with the advent of Internet video chatting.

After 50 years, some remnants of the World’s Fair can still be found in Queens such as the Hall of Science, the New York State Pavilion’s Queens Theatre and observation towers, and the fair’s most well-known symbol, the Unisphere.

Interestingly, New York City was also the site of the 1939 World’s Fair, which showcased an imagined future during the end of the Depression and the start of World War II.


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