The 1939 World's Fair: Background information when reading The World of Tomorrow

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The World of Tomorrow

by Brendan Mathews

The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews X
The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 560 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2018, 560 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

The 1939 World's Fair

This article relates to The World of Tomorrow

Print Review

DemocracityThe events in Brendan Mathews's The World of Tomorrow lead up, appropriately enough, to the 1939 World's Fair held in what's now Flushing Meadows Park in the New York City borough of Queens. According to the official World's Fair publication, it would showcase "the tools with which the World of Tomorrow must be made."

Time CapsuleThe 1939 World's Fair was the second largest exposition in American history, led only by the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. As suggested by its marketing copy, the fair was focused on the future (it's no coincidence that its genesis occurred during the darkest days of the Great Depression), and was spearheaded by a committee that included city planner Robert Moses, New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and a number of business leaders. The future depicted by the fair was largely focused on consumer products and innovation rather than scientific discovery, though Carl Sagan (who was a young child at the time) credited the Fair with sparking his enthusiasm for science.

Pavilion of PolandThe more than 44 million visitors to the fair over the course of the two years it was open saw exhibits such as the Democracity, a utopian city of the future, as well as a time capsule not to be opened for 5000 years, a number of dramatic sculptures and lagoons, aquatic ballets, and exhibits showcasing previously unfamiliar wonders such as escalators, televisions, commercial airliners, nylon stockings, and air conditioning. In traditional World's Fair style, countries around the world spotlighted their culture, cuisine, and consumer goods, often playing to American stereotypes about those countries.

The Trylon and PerisphereBut all was not entirely rosy at the World's Fair; by the time it opened, two of the countries among the international pavilions had already been invaded by Germany, and the Polish pavilion was shrouded in a black cloth once that country was invaded in September of 1939. Soon enough, the shiny World of Tomorrow was replaced by a less shiny vision of the future, one in which the steel in the iconic Trylon and Perisphere buildings was donated to the war effort when the Fair closed in the fall of 1940, and women had to put acquiring those new nylon stockings on hold, at least for a while.

Democracity, courtesy of 1939worldsfair.com
Time capsule
Pavilion of Poland
The Trylon and Perisphere

Article by Norah Piehl

This "beyond the book article" relates to The World of Tomorrow. It originally ran in September 2017 and has been updated for the June 2018 paperback edition.

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