Today is the 75th Anniversary of the Opening of the 1939 World’s Fair

2014-04-29 21.13.37We weren’t there, but our wastebasket was! It’s a souvenir brought back to Kansas City by Herb’s parents and it occupies a place of honor in our home beside Herb’s easy chair where he reads, sometimes writes, and seems to generate a lot of waste paper. Herb’s dad was in the lumber business and this walnut wastebasket no doubt appealed to him for that reason.

The Fair was located in Flushing Meadows, Corona Queens, and “The World of Tomorrow” was its theme. Fairgoers were awestruck by the latest inventions that within one lifetime (mine) have become so commonplace that we don’t even think of them as anything special: television, electric refrigerators, fluorescent lights, automatic dishwashers, nylon stockings, to name a few. With the rapid acceleration of change in technology that is now taking place, you can’t help but wonder what will be available in the next 75 years when the World’s Fair of 2089 (if there is one) rolls around.

The Trylon and Perisphere— iconic symbols of the 1939 World's Fair
The Trylon and Perisphere— iconic symbols of the 1939 World’s Fair

It’s not clear to me what the walnut wastebasket had to do with “The World of Tomorrow.” It does not strike me as futuristic even by 1939 standards. In fact, it makes me think of  William Morris, who in the 19th century transformed the world of decorative arts, reestablishing the value of handcrafted work and natural materials. True, the wastebasket is made by machine, but it certainly is a wonderful natural material and it seems to me to adhere to Morris’s golden rule of decor: “Have nothing in your house which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Certainly the wastebasket is useful and I do believe it is beautiful. And it has the added advantage of connecting us to a brief episode in our family’s history.














10 thoughts on “Today is the 75th Anniversary of the Opening of the 1939 World’s Fair

  1. Wow! Now THIS is history! My/our Mom worked as a teenager at the World’s Fair in both 1939 & 1940. It may very well have been her very first job (she came here in 1938) In the Italian Pavilion as a salesgirl. I remember her telling me she started at $8 a week and by the end of the fair she was making $16 and had about a dozen marriage proposals to her credit.

    What do we have as OUR family souvenir of The Fair? An ugly, faded, beat-up old cup that would have nestled on a fitted tile shelf in bathroom – – the type with slots for toothbrushes. Mom paid THREE DOLLARS for it because it was this amazing new material – – – plastic!


      1. Well, we know that they drove! Herb’s dad probably had only two weeks’ vacation from the lumber business, but Herb thinks they had a new car and drove. We don’t know where they stayed. When Herb asked his mother what they did in New York, she told him they “drove up and down Fifth Avenue.” We wondered about that, since today Fifth is one-way. But Herb looked it up (the things you can find on the internet!) and he says Fifth Avenue was then a two-way street, so we guess indeed they drove up and down the Avenue. Other than that, we know nothing about their trip except that they came home with a wastepaper basket.


  2. I love that park in Queens! My son and I spent a lot of time there exploring the old World’s Fairgrounds. My husband went to the one in 64. It was pretty convenient for them as they lived on Long Island. There is a nice little museum there where you can explore those past fairs.

    It is so fantastic to think of my grandparents stepping out in NYC to see the World’s Fair. And they brought back that very cool waste basket which now resides back in NYC. Almost in Queens. Did they take a train to NYC from KC? Just wondering how they traveled and where they stayed.

    And that is the park with the Carousel that we talked about in one of your past posts. Lots goes on there. Baseball, Tennis , World Fairs, carousels and so much more. Queens . . . the forgotten borough has a lot going on.


  3. I was 12 when that Fair opened, and I remember it well. My souvenir was a Trylon and Perisphere poster, which is today worth more –a lot more–than the 25 cents it cost back then. I have been to all the NYC fairs. Today, this rainy day, is my 87th BD! Time flies. Kay


    1. Happy Birthday, Kay! Indeed, time does fly. Does not seem like seven years since your 80th bd party! Well, so far, we’ve come up with a wastebasket, a plastic toothrush holder and a poster. Anyone else have a souvenir of the 1939 World’s Fair?


  4. About 5th Ave. being two-way…a brief story. Dec. 13, 1931, a British gentleman was been driven by taxi to a meeting on upper Fifth Ave. Not being sure about the address, he got out in the middle of the street to check the numbers on an awning, and being from England, looked for on-coming traffic in the wrong direction, and was struck by a car. He suffered a scalp wound, and a couple of cracked ribs, and was taken by ambulance to Lenox Hill Hospital, where Doctors declared that the injuries, while painful, were not serious, and the gentleman……named Winston Churchill, was released and returned to his suite at the Waldorf Astoria. His meeting was supposed to have been with Bernard Baruch. Even though the driver of the car claimed responsibility, Churchill said it was entirely his fault.


    1. This is such a great story! Looking the wrong way when you cross the street wlll get you in trouble in London too. And I remember the first night I was there on a visit years ago, riding in the car literally made me sick! Kept thinking the driver should “get over!”


  5. I love this post, but how is it that things I consider to be sort of “current events” have turned into ancient history?


    1. Isn’t it amazing? When I discovered that my furniture was actually an example of an historic style—like Greek Revival—I gained a new respect for it. I mean it has a name: midcentury modern! But what really got me was when I discovered that Louis Armstrong’s home in Queens is an historic house.


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