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Norman Bel Geddes (1893—1958)

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Raymond Loewy (1893—1986)

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New York World's Fair

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In many ways this major international exhibition typified the global economic, commercial, and corporate power and influence wielded by the United States of America by the time of the Second World War. Many of that country's leading companies, such as General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Kodak, and Westinghouse, contributed major buildings and exhibitions on the Flushing Meadow site and generally sought to portray themselves as major contributors to a utopian future world in which they played a key role in satisfying consumer desires and needs. Typical of this outlook was the representation of an imagined world of 1960 in the highly popular Futurama display in the General Motors Pavilion by Norman Bel Geddes or the vision of a futuristic Democracity by the industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss in the Perisphere at the centre of the exhibition site. In some ways it may be seen as a full‐blooded expression of the aims that had underpinned the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition of 1933–4, planned as a testament to a technologically and scientifically progressive America in which major corporations played a key role in the period of recovery following the Wall Street Crash of 1929. However, the NYWF was distinctly more forward looking than other international exhibitions held in the United States in the same decade: the California‐Pacific International Exposition at San Diego (1935–6) and the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco designed to celebrate the building of the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay bridges in the city (1939). Fittingly the NYWF came at the end of a decade that had seen the brief rise of the Technocratic Party, the popularization of the medium of science fiction, and emergence of comic strip heroes such as Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Superman.

The NYWF provided a fitting material response to its chosen major theme of ‘Building the World of Tomorrow with the Tools of Today’. It took three years to plan and build prior to its opening in April 1939 and the participation of 60 countries, the majority of American states, and numerous powerful companies underlined its international, political, and economic significance, as did the enormous 1,216‐acre (492‐hectare) site and 300 buildings. The striking and highly visible centrepieces of the exhibition were the Trylon and Perisphere, both of which became widely recognized symbols of the Fair. The soaring, needle‐like 700‐foot (212‐metre) Trylon tower, symbolizing aspiration, and the adjacent Perisphere (the largest ever man‐made globe), symbolizing the significance of the world, dominated the site and featured in much of the NYWF publicity, related ephemera, souvenirs, and merchandise. These included Remington Cadet typewriters, Bissell carpet sweepers, radios, silverware, and commemorative plates by Tiffany & Co., numerous fabric designs, postage stamps, comics, magazines, and posters, including Joseph Binder's award‐winning design for the NYWF poster competition of 1938. The Perisphere contained Dreyfuss's utopian vision of Democracity, a vast panorama of a planned metropolitan environment of 2039 that could be viewed from above by spectators who travelled round the exhibit on revolving balconies, as if in an aircraft, at the rate of 8,000 per day.


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