20 Awesome Things People Saw at the 1964 World’s Fair

Getty Images
Getty Images

When the 1964–'65 World’s Fair opened in New York City, a plethora of innovative exhibits came to Flushing Meadows–Corona Park in Queens. But by the time it closed in October 1965, it was considered a massive money pit, losing millions of dollars for New York City. Still, there were plenty of modern marvels for people to see during its two six-month runs. Read on for a glimpse at 20 of the coolest exhibits and rides that were on display.

1. "It’s A Small World"

This beloved attraction debuted along with other popular Disney rides like “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln” and “The Carousel of Progress.” The boat ride was part of the UNICEF exhibit, and became a runaway success: More than 10 million visitors gawked at Disney’s audio-animatronic dolls in the two seasons that it was open. (We’re guessing they also left with the iconic theme song stuck in their heads for days to come.)

2. The Unisphere

Getty Images

Many of the structures erected for the fair were torn down once it closed in October 1965, but this enormous steel sculpture—which has since been featured in Men In Black, Flight of the Conchords, and more—still stands. Fun fact: The globe’s three rings are meant to evoke the first NASA satellites to orbit the earth.

3. The Panorama of the City of New York

Image Credit: Queens Museum

New York City is rendered in miniature in a 9335-square-foot model of the five boroughs, with teeny versions of icons like the Empire State Building. Visitors to the exhibit took a nine-minute simulated “helicopter ride” (which cost 10 cents) that gave them a bird’s-eye view of its scope. After the fair, the model remained in the New York City Building, which eventually became the Queens Museum.

4. World’s Fair “Bluebird” subway car

Visitors to the fair could get there in style: In 1963, the New York City MTA commissioned special turquoise and gray cars to run along the 7 line to Flushing Meadows–Corona Park. A ride from Times Square to Queens in the “Bluebird” cars cost 15 cents.

5. Jet packs

Pinterest

An exposition that was devoted to showcasing future technologies was bound to get some predictions wrong. Case in point: jet packs. Although fairgoers saw guys zooming around the grounds on the futuristic vehicles, they never quite took off in the mainstream.

6. Belgian waffles

Getty Images

American audiences were introduced to this sweet treat at the Seattle expo in 1962, but NYC is where they exploded in popularity. The secret to their success: Brussels transplant Maurice Vermersch and his wife Rose treated the waffles like dessert, slathering them in whipped cream and strawberries.

7. Michelangelo’s Pieta

Wikimedia Commons

The Vatican lent Michelangelo’s original 15th-century sculpture so that it could be displayed at the fair, but it came with a barrage of security measures: The piece was surrounded by guards and bulletproof glass, and visitors could only see it by standing on a moving walkway that traveled at about two miles per hour.

8. The Ford Mustang

Sports-car enthusiasts had another roadster to salivate over after the Ford Motor Company introduced the now-iconic Mustang at the fair. Thanks to the model’s novelty and its affordable base price (around $2300), the Mustang went gangbusters, with more than 400,000 sold in its first year.

9. The World Trade Center

Wikimedia Commons

Architect Minoru Yamasaki began dreaming up a concept for the first World Trade Center in 1962, and in 1964, a scale model of his now-iconic Twin Towers was presented at the fair’s Port Authority Building (along with a model of the PATH railway tubes). Construction on the towers began two years later, with the buildings completed in 1973.

10. RCA color TV studio

Wikimedia Commons

During the 1939 World’s Fair, RCA brought TV technology to a mass audience; for the 1964 expo, they topped that experience by debuting color television in an interactive studio. Instead of seeing a familiar program, fairgoers who visited the RCA Pavilion actually saw themselves in living color on TV screens.

11. Futurama II

General Motors debuted this attraction at the 1939 expo, but presented an updated ride for the ’64–’65 fair. This version of a “future of reality” predicted that there would be colonies on the moon and commuter spacecraft, underwater hotels, and covered moving walkways in the not-too-distant future. At least they were optimistic.

12. Picturephone

We take Skype and FaceTime for granted now, but in 1964, the technology that allowed people to see the person on the other end of a phone call was brand new. Bell Laboratories debuted its first picturephone at the fair, and visitors could test the device at calling stations that were connected to similar devices at Disneyland in California.

13. Live animals

In the Africa Pavilion, visitors got up close and personal with native animals like gorillas, giraffes, and lions. Over at the Florida exhibit, meanwhile, dolphins performed tricks during a special show, while seals demonstrated their ability to juggle.

14. Sinclair Dinoland

The Sinclair Oil Corporation sponsored this pavilion, which featured life-size replicas of nine different dinosaurs. Some of them had moving parts; the 20-foot-high Tyrannosaurus Rex model, for instance, opened and closed its fearsome jaws. Visitors could take home a miniature plastic model of a Brontosaurus, which also doubled as Sinclair’s logo, for 50 cents.

15. New York State Pavilion

Architect Philip Johnson’s iconic towers may be in ruins now, but they were among the most dazzling structures when the fair opened. The Tent of Tomorrow was particularly impressive: It had a brightly colored fiberglass roof and an enormous map of New York State, made from more than 500 mosaic panels.

16. Spanish artworks

The Nobleman with the Hand on his Chest, via Wikimedia Commons

Both classic and contemporary pieces by some of Spain’s most famous artists were on display. After much dispute, one of El Greco’s 16th-century masterworks (The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest) was displayed, along with work by Francisco Goya and Diego Velázquez. On the modern side, visitors could see paintings by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Joan Miró.

17. Port Authority Heliport

Helicopters actually landed on the roof of this 120-foot-high attraction, where visitors could see a 13-minute film chronicling the history of transportation in New York City. (In fact, the Beatles got to Shea Stadium before their famous 1965 concert by landing here.) The structure also had a restaurant, Top of the Fair, serving lunch and dinner (for $2.95 and $4.95, respectively) alongside panoramic views of the city.

18. U.S. Royal Ferris Wheel

Free Shop Manual

A giant Ferris Wheel shaped like a tire may not have been as cool as futuristic exhibits or jet packs, but it did prove incredibly popular with visitors. More than two million people took a ride on the 80-foot-tall attraction, including Jackie Kennedy and her children, according to Uniroyal.

19. Shea Stadium

Technically, the New York Mets’ brand-new stadium wasn’t part of the expo, but visitors could check out the 55,000-seat venue as they took the 7 train to the fairgrounds. The Amazin's played the Pittsburgh Pirates during the inaugural game on April 17, 1964, but ended up losing by one run.

20. IBM computer technology

The IBM Pavilion (itself a marvel designed by Charles Eames for Eero Saarinen’s firm) featured several exhibits showcasing state-of-the-art functionality, including a proto-Google that, when given a particular date, could pull up an event that happened on that day. Another installation, the People Wall, used hydraulic lifts to create an immersive theater experience for an audience of 500.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea … In the Middle of Rural Yorkshire

If you lived in Holmfirth, England, in the 1940s, there's a good chance you would've found a tiger like this one wandering around town.
If you lived in Holmfirth, England, in the 1940s, there's a good chance you would've found a tiger like this one wandering around town.
photoguru81/iStock via Getty Images

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild. This is especially true in the United States, where backyard zoos and cub petting operations are successful—if controversial—businesses. Big cat ownership is more heavily regulated in the UK than it is in the U.S., but that wasn’t always the case. More than 70 years ago, there was at least one pet tiger living in England.

To the people of Britain, Holmfirth, 20 miles outside of Manchester, is probably best known as the picturesque setting of Last of the Summer Wine, the BBC show that ran for a staggering 37 years from 1973 to 2010 and is now appropriately credited as being the world’s longest running sitcom. But back in the early 1940s, the village was known locally as the home of Fenella the Holmfirth Tiger.

Fenella’s story actually begins more than 8000 miles away in South Africa, where she was adopted by a family of circus performers and acrobats from Yorkshire, the Overends, in the late 1930s. While touring South Africa with a traveling circus in 1939, the Overend family was offered two newborn circus tiger cubs to rear and eventually incorporate into their act. One of the cubs died barely a week later, but the other—given the name Fenella, or “Feney” for short—survived.

The Overends were forced to return to England after the outbreak of the Second World War. They took Fenella home with them to live (albeit after a brief stay in quarantine) in the back garden of their house in Holmfirth. Although she had a specially built hut and enclosure, the tiger eventually began spending just as much time in the family house as she did in the garden, and according to her owners, soon became extraordinarily tame.

The family would take her for walks through the village, including past the local primary school, where she became a firm favorite among the pupils. When the local council began to raise questions over just how tame Fenella really was, the sight of her walking calmly while being petted by all the schoolchildren as they returned from their lunch break was all it took to quash their worries.

Holmfirth viewed from the cemetery
Holmfirth in the 21st century, with nary a tiger in sight.

Tim Green, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Fenella was sometimes permitted to run in the fields around the village, where she reportedly made friends with a local cart horse—which is surprising, given she was raised on a diet of horse meat and fish (fish and chips were one of her favorite treats). She apparently also had a fondness for climbing trees to take a nap, and supposedly had a habit of dropping down from the branches and, fairly understandably, surprising passersby. But soon the sight of a fully grown 9-foot Sumatran tigress casually idling her way through the village’s cobbled streets became the norm for the people of Holmfirth.

Fenella was intended to be a performing tiger. Similar to the cub petting operations that still exist in the U.S., visitors could pay sixpence to sit and pet her while the family was on tour. She was also worked into the family’s circus performances by staging a mock wrestling match with her owner. But though the Overends put the big cat to work, they considered her a beloved family pet rather than just another part of their act.

Sadly, Fenella died of a kidney infection during one of the family’s tours in 1950 when she was just over 10 years old. She was buried in the neighbor’s garden, which was said to be one of her favorite hunting grounds. Fenella is still remembered fondly in and around Holmfirth. In 2016, she was a highlight of the Holmfirth Arts Festival, which celebrated the cat’s life with an exhibition of photographs and archival footage of her and the Overend family. Exotic pets might not have remained as popular in the UK as they once were, but Fenella’s popularity at least remains intact.

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER