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?