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 Saw Women Make History

In honor of Women’s History Month, Mister Boomer takes a look back at some contributions made by women who made a difference during the boomer era:

Lucille Ball (1911-1989) was known far and wide for her role on the I Love Lucy show (1951-57). Yet many boomers do not realize she was the first woman to own a major television production studio: Desilu Productions. She co-founded the company with her then husband, Desi Arnaz, to produce and control creative aspects of their TV show. The couple divorced in 1960 and in 1962, Lucy bought out Arnaz to became sole owner of Desilu. Further, many boomers do not know that Desilu brought us the TV series, The Untouchables (1959-63) and Star Trek (1966-69). In 1968, Lucy sold the company to Gulf + Western, the parent company of Paramount Pictures; she then formed Lucille Ball Productions.

Rosa Parks (1913-2005) refused to give up her seat and move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. Though not the first person arrested for violating city segregation ordinances, her actions inspired a boycott of Montgomery city buses. She was immediately and forever linked to the struggle for Civil Rights. In 1963, she attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (though no women were invited to speak), and was present when President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Trivia tidbit: Rosa Parks was the guest speaker at Mister Boomer’s college graduation.

Aretha Franklin (1942-2018) was certainly known to boomers for her rendition of Respect (1967) and many other hit songs. Yet some boomers may not realize that she was first women to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (1987). Another fact that many boomers may not know is that Aretha sang the national anthem to open the now-infamous Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. She also performed at Jimmy Carter’s presidential inauguration in 1977.

Barbara Walters (1929-2022) was a fixture on TV during the boomer years, beginning with the Today Show in 1961. In 1972, she was chosen to be part of the press corps that accompanied President Nixon on his historic trip to China. Walters moved from NBC to ABC in 1976 to became the first woman co-anchor in network evening news. It was reported that ABC lured her to take the job with a $1 million salary, unprecedented for a woman in TV news at that time.

Ruth Handler (1918-2002) may not have been known by name by every boomer, but her work certainly was recognized. In 1959, Ruth invented the Barbie doll (Ken was introduced in 1961) and became a co-founder of Mattel with her husband. Boomer boys and girls had many Mattel toys, including See ‘N Say, Chatty Cathy, Hot Wheels, Batmobile and Creepy Crawlers.

Katherine G. Johnson (1918-2020) was hardly known to boomers until the film Hidden Figures (2016) brought her name forward as one of a group of women whose mathematical calculations were crucial to the landing of the first man on the moon in 1969.

Marion Donovan (1917-1998), a housewife turned inventor, came up with the first practical disposable diaper in 1951. It would take another decade before Procter and Gamble would make the product available, as Pampers, to mothers of boomers.

Betty Friedan (1921-2006) published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, which became instrumental in her forming of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966.

Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) became the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1964, after serving in the State Legislature in her native New York. She was a champion of women’s rights and civil rights. In 1972 she was the first black woman to run for president from a major political party (Margaret Chase Smith became the first woman to run for president in 1964 in the Republican Party). Chisholm wrote that through her time in Congress, she experienced more discrimination as a woman than as an African American.

Stephanie Kwolek (1923-2014) was working as a chemist for DuPont when she patented a synthetic fiber known as Kevlar. The fabric’s strength, light weight and fire resistance properties lends itself to many uses, from the aerospace industry to automotive and consumer product applications. However most boomers know Kevlar as the material from which bullet-proof vests are made.

Katherine Graham (1917-2001) became the president of The Washington Post in 1963, and was the first woman to lead a Fortune 500 U.S. corporation in 1972 when she assumed the role of CEO. She presided over and supported investigations into the Watergate break-in by Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein. The Post’s published articles began the debate over the involvement of President Richard Nixon, which ultimately led to his resignation in 1975.

Of course, there were many others. Certainly Jackie Kennedy had tremendous influence during the boomer years. Gloria Steinem is another influencer of the era. Plus, many stars in the music and film industry held sway with boomers as well.

How about you, boomers? What contributions by women during your formative years do you recall?