Flushing Meadows-Corona Park can be a very busy place, particularly when it is a warm spring or summer day. As busy as it is now, that is nothing compared to hustle and bustle there in 1964.
Between April of 1964 and October of 1965, more than 50 million people came to Queens to take part in the World’s Fair. April 21 will mark the 45th anniversary of one of the borough’s biggest events.
In the book The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair: Creation & Legacy, co-authors Bill Young and Bill Cotter explain that the efforts to bring the fair to New York began with a group of businessmen who wanted to do something special to celebrate the state’s 300th anniversary, which would be in 1964.
Although there were other cities also looking to host the fair, on October 29, 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower announced New York as the federal choice for it, the book explains.
From there, Robert Moses began designing the site for the fair in Flushing-Meadows-Corona Park, which was a former refuge dump that was also used for the 1939 World’s Fair. It would take five years and $1 billion to design and build.
Young and Cotter wrote that the “designers tried to provide a modern and futuristic look wherever possible to make the fair a truly special place.”
A resident of Long Island at the time the fair opened, Cotter was 12 years old and said he liked being a short train ride away. He said his parents let him go to the World’s Fair as long as he took his brother and brought him back in one piece.
“The size of it absolutely blew me away,” said Cotter, who now lives in California. “There was always more. The shear scope of it was just amazing to me, particularly when I realized in just two years it would all be gone.”
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said much of what was seen at the fair gave people “a forecast for the future,” allowing them to see many things that may have seemed futuristic at the time but that are now a part of life. Some of the things viewed and heard at that particular fair were speaker phones, predictions of the computer era and picture phones, just to name a few.
“A lot of the things that were shown at the World’s Fair became a part of American life,” said Whitestone resident Anita Mantione.
Another part of the fair that many people who went there remarked on is the diversity of people they were able to meet.
“You never got to talk to as many different people as you did at the fair,” said Cotter, who also co-authored the book The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair with Young.
The wonderment that the fair provided to so many millions of people officially came to an end on October 17, 1965.
Even after all of that time, the 1964 World’s Fair remains a significant part of the history of Queens. Additionally, it holds a special meaning for many, and some popular places in Queens are here specifically because of the fair.
But as memories begin to fade, preservation and keeping the history alive are still an issue.
Click here to read about a Queens couple who had their second date at the fair.
Click here to read about efforts to preserve elements of the World’s Fair.