Boomers Heard About — or Visited — the 1964 New York World’s Fair

Sixty years ago this month, the 1964 New York World’s Fair opened in Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York. It was not sanctioned by or garnered support of the Bureau of International Expositions since the Seattle World’s Fair had just ended its one six-month run in 1962. The New York World’s Fair ran in two six-month seasons (April-October 1964 and April-October 1965). It quickly became known for showcasing American culture and technology, with 24 states and 45 corporations taking part, and more than 50 million people attending.

Among the exhibits were visions of the future that struck a chord with many boomers, then and now. It showcased a future of personal computers, robotics, Space Age living and more:

• It was the first introduction for much of the public to mainframe computers, computer terminals and CRT displays. Teletype machines, computer punch cards and nascent telephone modems were also demonstrated.
• The Vatican Pavilion became one of the most popular since it displayed Michelangelo’s Pieta, specially shipped from Italy for the Fair. Fairgoers were ushered through the pavilion on a people-mover conveyor belt in order to keep the line moving. Long lines formed every day, with people waiting for hours to catch a glimpse of the famous statue.
• Fondue became a fad in the U.S. after Switzerland featured it in a Swiss restaurant in their pavilion.
• Many Americans had their first taste of Belgian waffles at the fair, though it had previously been introduced in Europe in the 1950s and at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

• The Ford Mustang was officially introduced at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. A Ford dealer in Newfoundland, Canada jumped the gun and sold the first Mustang ever made to an anxious car buyer, before the fair opened. The Mustang the dealer sold was a pre-production model, Series No. 1, meant to be for showroom display only. Those preproduction cars were later recalled by Ford and replaced at the dealerships. The Mustang was a hit at the fair, and sales skyrocketed. Ford later traded the one millionth Mustang made in 1966 for the original car bought by the Canadian buyer. Mustang No. 1 currently lives in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
• Bell Systems showcased the Touch Tone Phone, and made them available in phone booths around the fair. The phone had been introduced at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.
• Westinghouse created and buried a time capsule that included credit cards, antibiotics, birth control pills, a rechargeable battery, a computer memory unit, a bikini, a Beatles record, a transistor radio, and contact lenses, among other things.
• Despite the fair’s focus on computers, IBM gave fairgoers a chance to try out their new Selectric typewriter at their Typewriter Bar.
• AT&T previewed the Picturephone, something fairgoers viewed as a novelty but failed to embrace until decades later.
• Disney introduced the “It’s a Small World” exhibit, which is now a permanent part of the Disneyland experience, and an animatronic Abraham Lincoln, the forerunner to the Hall of Presidents at Disney World.

Mister Boomer’s family did not visit New York City until years later, when, ironically, they traveled to the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal, Canada. After the fair visit, the Boomer family entered the U.S. and had a brief visit with relatives in New England before stopping in New York City, all the time traveling in the family car.

How about you, boomers? Did you attend the 1964 World’s Fair in New York or any other World’s Fair?

Boomers Flew In Airplanes

Air travel became practical for consumers in the U.S. by the 1930s — if you were wealthy enough to afford a ticket. It wasn’t until after the War that average people making long trips looked at air travel as an alternative to trains or cars. For many parents of boomers, their first air flight might have been being sent overseas during the War. However, Armed Forces travel within the U.S. at that time, such as to or from basic training or domestic bases, was mainly restricted to bus or train. Once soldiers, doctors or nurses were deployed in Europe or the South Pacific, they might have taken their first flight.

For many boomers, the building of the Interstate Highway System during the Eisenhower administration (construction began in 1956) meant travel by car between states became easier, and even considered fun for a family visiting relatives or vacationing. As the commercial prompted, See the U.S.A in your Chevrolet, so they did.

Mister Boomer is not sure when his parents first boarded an airplane; it’s not something either mentioned. For Mister B, though, it was a high school senior class trip that put him on a plane. Now more than 50 years have passed and Mister B has been on too many flights to count, for job-related business trips, as well as vacationing and visiting family in other parts of the country.

Flashing back to that senior class trip, though, Mister B remembers he was extremely frightened and anxious about the flight. He had never flown before, and frankly, it didn’t seem natural that these giant metal tubes with wings could stay in the air. A few days before leaving, Mister B was so apprehensive that he wrote a “farewell” letter to his family and friends, presumably to be found in his dresser drawer after the bad news reached home. He had convinced himself that the plane was going down with him in it.

The day of the boarding, Mister B resigned himself to the c’est sera of the moment; whatever will be will be was his thought. Once seated — at a window — Mister B somehow calmed himself enough to stare straight ahead during the takeoff. Having never seen the view of his city from the sky, and ultimately the top of the clouds, Mister B was able to enjoy the scene out the window — while still expecting the worst outcome. Obviously that did not happen, and Mister B had an acceptable long weekend away, as well as one might expect with high school classmates and chaperones in constant sight.

Mister Boomer conjured up these memories because there have been some high-profile incidents in the air over the past few months. It reminded him of some bare-knuckle flights he has been on over the years, like the one flying through a thunderstorm, strapped tightly in his seat, with lightning bolts striking the wings of the plane; or the flight that was filled with so much turbulence that at one point the plane fell precipitously. After what seemed an eternity, the pilot made an announcement reassuring the passengers that the bumpy ride might continue a while longer, and, oh no worries, the plane just dropped 10,000 feet in that last dip.

By the 1970s and ’80s, most boomers had experienced air travel. The Boomer Generation is likely to have been the first generation to say a large percentage of its members took to the air. Currently there are several research studies that are pointing out that boomers are more comfortable with air travel than the Millennials who followed them. Who knew there would be generational differences on attitudes about air travel?

Still, the perception of air safety does not match the data. Ironically, despite the number of people flying per year is millions more than during the prime boomer years, far fewer fatal crashes occur than during their peak of the 1970s and ’80s. The data amazingly provides some reasoning for Mister Boomer’s trepidation way back when. At the time of his first flight, less than 10 million people flew each year, yet in the early 1970s, approximately 10-15 crashes occurred annually. Contrast that with today’s air travel by more than 25 million people, with less than 10 fatal crashes per year. Improved technology both in the air and on land rises to the top of the list to explain the steady drop in airplane fatal crashes.

When Mister Boomer returned home after his first round-trip flights, he immediately grabbed the envelope that contained his in the event of.. message and destroyed it.

How about you, boomers? When did you first board an airplane?