World’s Fair 1964-65: Imagining the Future

Stephanie Yuhl
Stephanie Yuhl
College of the Holy Cross

Stephanie Yuhl is the W. Arthur Garrity, Sr. Professor in Human Nature, Ethics and Society and Professor of History at the College of the Holy Cross, as well as Associate Faculty at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in the Critical Conservation Program.  An expert in 20th-century U.S. cultural and social history who specializes in historical memory, social movements, gender and sexuality, Southern history, and the built environment, Professor Yuhl is also a consultant and curator of historical museum exhibits and oral history projects. A popular teacher who was awarded the inaugural Burns Career Teaching Medal for Outstanding Teaching, Yuhl is the author of the award-winning book, A Golden Haze of Memory: The Making of Historic Charleston, and the co-author of LGBTQ+ Worcester for The Record.

 

Overview

August 1, 2022, 4:00 pm

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Looming twelve-stories high over Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and constructed of glistening stainless steel, the Unisphere (a model of the globe that still stands on the site today) welcomed over 51 million people to the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65. More importantly, it announced that America was eager to lead the world into a new modern age. And while the fair touted “Peace through Understanding” and was dedicated to “Man’s Achievements in an Expanding Universe,” it was also a keen expression of a particular mid-century brand of American cultural, political, and economic ambition and idealism. Against the ever-present tensions of the Cold War (which only a year prior had come dangerously close to becoming a hot war during the Cuban Missile Crisis), the fair’s design and exhibits articulated unwavering faith in the health of American corporate capitalism and robust consumerism, as well as in the possibilities of exploring “new frontiers” in space. Dazzling future-focused inventions, such as personal jet packs to IBM’s basic computer, coupled with atomic age aesthetics, such as the towering columns of architect Philip Johnson’s New York State Pavilion, wowed visitors into the belief in an ever-progressing American future. And yet, powerful social forces outside of the fair gates offered a compelling counter narrative.

 

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