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 Knew What Time It Was

The way we tell time is very telling. If you remember picking up a handset and dialing a number to get the time, then you are indeed a boomer.

Nowadays, time travels with you on your phone, but it’s not just any time, it’s synchronized to an atomic clock. Cell phones send a signal to a satellite with GPS, and the satellite has an atomic clock to keep incredibly accurate time. (The sticklers for detail among us may quibble about the misstep by most Android phones that makes time on an Android slightly off. As knowledge of time has evolved since the software for the satellite was produced in 1984, scientists learned they needed to add 15 seconds of “leap time” to the atomic clock. Apple iPhones adjust for this leap time, but most Android phones do not, resulting in a 15 second discrepancy.)

Meanwhile, back in the Boomer Generation, there were several ways boomers could get an approximation of the current time (if not the more exact time). As just mentioned, you could literally call for the time. Mister Boomer didn’t do that call much, but did find it helpful when setting the time on a wall clock or wristwatch. Then, as now, boomers’ lives were geared to time schedules, so an accurate clock in the house was essential for school, work or social functions. Consequently, no matter where you went, there was a clock. Retail stores, the Post Office, doctors’ offices and every classroom had a clock on the wall.

When you were out and about, many buildings displayed large clocks. Sometimes they topped tall towers, while others appeared on the sides of retail buildings such as department stores, and sometimes clocks were perched atop lampposts on a town street.

A personal wristwatch was another way to tell time. Mister Boomer got his first watch in second grade, and had one throughout his school years, into college and beyond. In the days before digital time, the watch had a spring that needed to be wound each day. The physical mechanism created its own limitations that meant some watches were more accurate than others. Mister Boomer’s early Timex watch would “lose time” each day, which would require the time to be manually reset periodically.

Still, for Mister B and most boomers he knew, a wristwatch was not worn while playing, especially outdoors. In the early 1960s, not every watch was shock resistant or water resistant. That meant a boomer needed to rely on other methods to tell time. In Mister B’s neighborhood, no one was all that good at guessing the time based on the shadows cast by the sun.

If Mister B was playing baseball near the church his family attended, he had another way to tell time. The church bells rang once for each hour, from 7 am to 7 pm; count the number of chimes, know the hour. It came in handy to inform kids when it was time to head home for dinner. As the 1960s progressed, more cities passed noise ordinances that limited, among other things, the ringing of church bells. At that point, Mister Boomer’s family church reduced the bell ringing to celebrate weddings, mark funerals, and as a 15-minute warning that a Sunday service was about to begin.

In 1970, the song Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? by Chicago was released as a single. For boomers, the answer was, yes, we did, and we cared about it. The song, of course, was suggesting people take the time to stop and appreciate the little things in life, but boomers had places to go and things to do. Whether at school or at play, boomer lives were scheduled by time; baseball practice at 9 am; English class at 11 am; family dinner at 6 pm, and so on.

If all else failed, boomers could ask someone they passed if they knew the time. At a time when a great many people did not carry the time with them, boomers found ways to get what they needed.

How about you, boomers? Did you ever call for the time on your family’s phone?