World’s Fair Visible Storage

The Queens Museum used to be the New York City Building, which was the City’s official pavilion during the 1939-40 and 1964-65 World’s Fairs. From 1946 until 1950, the New York City Building was also used as headquarters of the United Nations General Assembly.

The 1939-40 World’s Fair was conceived to commemorate the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration, revitalize New York’s economy, and create a major new park. Through the efforts of the New York World’s Fair Corporation, an ash dump in Flushing was transformed into a “World of Tomorrow.” 45 million visitors passed through the fair entrances. Its architectural symbols—the Trylon and Perisphere—appeared on tabletop radios, Tiffany’s collectible plates, jewelry, cosmetic cases, and games. These mementos allowed the Fair’s impression of Utopia to linger long after it was demolished.

The 1964-65 Fair coincided both with the 300th anniversary of New York City and the 25th anniversary of the 1939-40 World’s Fair. Robert Moses, New York’s most prolific and recognized builder of public urban renewal projects, was president of the Fair Corporation. Visitors were treated to U.S. Rubber’s 80-foot tire, while U.S. Steel funded and built the Unisphere, still located directly outside the building. Land was available rent-free to religious organizations such as the Vatican, whose pavilion housed Michelangelo’s Pieta. The Panorama of the City of New York, now the centerpiece of the Queens Museum, was built for the Fair and meant for use afterwards as a city planning tool.

The Museum owns more than 10,000 objects related to those two iconic expositions. The World’s Fair Visible Storage was inaugurated after the Museum’s renovation in 2013, and features over 900 objects from the larger collection. It provides an opportunity for students, scholars, and the general public to view items formerly off-limits to the public. All of these items have been organized by donor so that the collections within the collection become evident.

Images: World’s Fair Visible Storage, 2013, photos by Peter Dressel