BUILDING A WORLD’S FAIR (Mar, 1938)

BUILDING A WORLD’S FAIR

By EDWIN TEALE

FIFTY MILLION visitors—a number equal to nearly half the population of the United States—are expected to journey next year to the New York World’s Fair. With lights and flame, motion and sound, this $175,000,-000 show will dramatize the progress and the promise of science. It will reveal the World of Tomorrow as it is foreseen today.

At this writing, the exposition site is a vast beehive of activity. The pounding of carpenters’ hammers, the crash of pile drivers, the roar of dump trucks, the machine-gun rat-a-tat of riveters fills the air. Buildings seem to rise overnight. A thousand and one projects are being carried out at the same time. Roads, bridges, artificial lakes, transplanted forests, synthetic soils appear as though by magic. The whole story of the 1939 World’s Fair is a story of science in action.

Even the ground upon which the buildings will stand is a product of scientific advance. Late in June 1936, a mechanized army of workers began a 190-day siege of the dreary stretch of swampland, formerly an ash dump, near Flushing on Long Island. Using power shovels, dump trucks, bulldozers, and gas-driven draglines, 500 picked men worked, in shifts, twenty-four hours a day. On weekends, a crew of crack mechanics overhauled the equipment. During the operations, more than 1,000,000 gallons of gasoline exploded in the cylinders of the engines and $80,000 worth of electric current was consumed by the floodlights which blazed at the top of twelve eighty-foot towers throughout the night. In all, nearly 7,000,000 cubic yards of material were moved before the job was completed.

Then followed an exhibition of chemical wizardry. Instead of stripping hundreds of acres to obtain the fertile topsoil needed for grass and trees, scientists created it chemically from the salty, acid, fibrous root soil of the swamp, of which approximately 800,000 cubic yards had been set aside for the purpose. Through two years of intensive research, the scientists had discovered a way of converting this material into soil of high fertility. They treated it in half a dozen ways, plowed it, windrowed it with lime, added phosphates and nitrogen, composted it with raw manure. In the end, it turned into the material desired. By this feat alone, science saved the fair half a million dollars.

For the landscaping of the fair grounds, a forest of trees began moving toward the site. Experts, equipped with large books giving the sizes, shapes, and kinds of trees required, had been scouring the country for hundreds of miles around. They had catalogued upward of 10,000 available trees. In the largest mass movement of the kind on record, railroad flat cars and motor trucks began rolling toward New York bearing a wide variety of full-grown trees, some weighing as much as twenty-five tons and having a height of more than fifty feet. Following one-way streets and guided by police cars, most of the trucks passed through New York City in the early hours of the morning, reaching their destination before daylight. Here, huge machines lifted the trees into place while Diesel-driven bulldozers shoved the dirt around the roots and ran back and forth to tamp it down.

This migration of 10,000 trees, dramatic as it is, forms but a small part of the vast activity necessary in the preparation of the fair site. On the list of jobs to be done were the construction of seventeen miles of roads, fifteen miles of gas mains, ten bridges, and two artificial lakes. A tidal dam and a $700,000 marine basin on Flushing Bay, which will permit motor boats and excursion vessels to dock at the grounds, are well on their way to completion.

At the same time, the first of the buildings which will form the rainbow-hued Arabian Nights assemblage of the fair, were going up. To be sure that the best obtainable materials were used, the exposition scientists built a curious field laboratory unlike any other in existence. Supported on immense jacks, the structure could be warped and twisted at the will of the engineers. Under actual outdoor conditions, they were able to subject materials, ranging from stucco to steel beams, to a wide variety of tests.

Most spectacular of the structures being made from the selected materials are the “trylon” and “Perisphere,” which will form the “theme center” of the fair. The first is a slender obelisk rising 700 feet into the air; the second is a pure-white ball 200 feet in diameter. They can be seen for miles around and will provide a landmark for visitors arriving by air, water, and land.

To form the foundation for the 8,000,000-pound trylon, eleven miles of wood piling, a whole inverted forest of ninety-five-foot fir trunks, were driven into the ground. The designs for the trylon and Perisphere were selected from more than 1,000 sketches submitted. The cost of construction will be $1,200,000.

Within the hollow globe of the 5,700,000-pound Perisphere, “magic carpets” will carry visitors in a circle above an immense model representation of a city and countryside of the future. Two 100-ton platforms, shaped like gigantic metal washers, will form the “carpets” on which spectators will ride. Special lighting will make the supporting pillars invisible while the platforms revolve at a steady pace of thirty feet a minute. Visitors will have the sensation of riding silently through space above a widespread countryside.

Outside the Perisphere, water, spraying from a series of fountains, will hide the eight columns which provide support. The great ball, nearly a block in diameter, will appear to be floating in space. At night, colored lights and moving patterns will be projected on the outside of the sphere, producing the illusion that it is revolving.

To carry spectators to the entrance of the Perisphere, five stories above the ground, the longest moving stairway ever built in this country will be provided. A steady stream of 16,000 persons an hour will be able to ride up the incline. After the trip through the Perisphere is over, visitors will descend to the ground by means of a circular ramp. During this descent, they will have an opportunity to view the whole colorful panorama of the fair spread out below them. A sweep of the grounds will carry the eye through all the colors of the spectrum, succeeding one another in their proper order, from red to violet.

Spreading away from the theme center of the fair will be a seemingly endless succession of exhibits. Among the most spectacular will be the gas-industries display with its tall central plume of fire and its quartet of ninety-foot pylons, each with writhing snakes of colored flame running up the sides. In order to obtain the desired colors, ex-perirnenters worked for months adding chemicals to gas in laboratory tests. As a result, they have half a dozen brilliant hues at their disposal. At present, attempts are being made to mix fire and water, combining fountain sprays and colored flame. During the exposition, men operating batteries of valves within the “Court of Flame” exhibit will control and blend the varicolored plumes of fire.

The consumption of gas by all the exhibits of the fair, during the six-months’ run of the exposition, is expected to reach a total of nearly half a billion cubic feet. The fifteen miles of mains, which form an underground network at the site, have sufficient capacity to meet the needs of a large city.

The biggest single display at the fair will be the sixteen-acre, $1,500,000 show presented by twenty-six eastern railroads. Here you will find dioramas, moving pictures, and a huge pageant-drama, “Railroads on Parade.” Four thousand persons can sit in the amphitheater facing the stage where the pageant will be given. In a circular hall at one end of the railway exhibit building, a full-size locomotive, its wheels spinning on rollers, will thunder with throttle wide open. In another room, 100 by 150 feet, a complete railroad system will be shown in miniature. Tiny trains and engines, switches and gates, semaphores and stations, will reproduce all the activity of a far-flung transportation system.

FARTHER on, you will see the story of bread dramatized, following the steps from growing grain to finished loaf. In connection with this display, there will be a real field of wheat, a thousand square feet in area. Other exhibitions will show how textiles are made, how automobiles are assembled, how plastics are worked, how various manufacturing and packing activities are carried on. The panoply of the midway, the colorful street of a thousand attractions, will run the gamut of amusements. Already, 6,000 applications have been received for space in this section of the fair. Only one out of six can be accepted.

Of special interest to children will be a world’s fair within a world’s fair, a juvenile exposition occupying a five-acre tract in the heart of the fair site. Here younger visitors will find an infinite variety of attractions. There will be doll houses, toy rooms, and marionette workshops and theaters. A science-and-invention laboratory will hold hundreds of whirring, clicking models. Those interested in chemistry will find a complete chemical laboratory; those who want to know about photography will have the opportunity of watching experts perform all the processes from clicking the shutter of the camera to enlarging the resulting film. Those simply looking for a good time will be able to take an “amusement trip around the world,” trying out in succession the games and sports of many lands.

DURING the progress of the New York World’s Fair, special transportation facilities will be provided for the throngs of spectators attracted by the great show. At the present time, an elevated-railway extension is being equipped with a station permitting 40,000 passengers an hour to arrive or leave the fair grounds. The great Triborough Bridge, opened last year, will carry thousands of automobiles and busses directly to the exposition site. New highways will link the grounds with the main arteries of traffic leading from Brooklyn and Manhattan. Special routes will connect the fair with Long Island airports and seaplane bases, so visitors arriving by air can reach the exposition with a minimum of delay. The daily average attendance for the six-months run of the fair is expected to be 250,000. Facilities are being prepared to handle a maximum of 800,000 spectators a day.

OF ALL the displays vying for attention at the fair, the one which seems likely to attract the largest crowds is the huge structure housing the Medicine and Public Health exhibit. Here you will enter a cathedrallike room, the hall of Man. It is dominated by the towering, eighteen-foot, transparent figure of a man. Throughout the auditorium, a steady, pulsing sound will be heard. It will be the broadcast of a normal, beating heart, magnified to suggest the sound of the functioning of an organ as large as that shown in the transparent figure, three times life size.

On either side of the giant figure, there will be other, smaller transparent men. Each will be lifelike in every detail. All of the organs will be visible in their proportionate sizes. In addition to revealing how the processes of digestion and respiration work, how our eyes and ears function, how growth and reproduction take place, the models will show, by means of moving lights, how infections spread through the human system.

Another striking display in this same building will be the “vitameter.” It will suggest the distance-measuring device on a motor car and will occupy almost one whole wall. Just as the cumulative mileage is recorded on a car’s odometer, so the cumulative number of births and deaths during any given week in the United States will be shown on the vitameter. At times, the dial will show that the race between life and death is almost equal. At other times, the birth rate will forge ahead. One purpose of the display will be to dramatize the part science and medicine are playing in reducing child mortality and in lengthening the span of life.

NEAR-BY, visitors will come to a colossal, yawning mouth, large enough to hold half a dozen persons at the same time. Entering, they will walk on a thick sponge-rubber carpet, suggesting a tongue. Around them they will see the teeth in transparent form. They can watch the blood supply circulate, and see how the nerves run through the tooth roots.

To aid the spectators in visualizing the life histories of their teeth, a smaller model of a mouth will be provided. When visitors pull a lever, they will see teeth appear in the same order in which they grow in an infant’s gums.

Thus, a little more than a year hence, you will be able to pass from exhibit to exhibit, absorbing knowledge presented in dramatic form. The 1939 exposition, in effect, will be a vast city of science. The building of the fair itself, as well as the preparation of the exhibits it will contain, represents another step ahead in utilizing the latest gifts of research and discovery.

7 comments
  1. Thundercat says: October 4, 200710:33 am

    Cool, I love any articles or ads that deal with the 39 NYWF. I also like on the last page the ad for the Dremel tool.

  2. jayessell says: October 4, 20075:52 pm

    Thundercat

    A David Niven film set at the 39NYWF is viewable/downloadable at:

    http://www.archive.org/…

    It appears near/at the end I think.
    It has an arieal panorama of the fair.

    The movie is good too, I think.

  3. Thundercat says: October 4, 20077:35 pm

    archive.org has lots of great videos. I’ll check out that one.

  4. jayessell says: October 5, 20075:59 am

    Now that I have the clip playing….

    Elephants on parade: 1:23:58
    Dancing water in front of Perisphere: 1:24:09
    Arieal views: 1:26:17 and 1:26:53
    Boats:1:27:57

  5. Firebrand38 says: October 5, 20078:55 am

    More images and links can be found here as well http://www.sjsu.edu/fac…

  6. jayessell says: October 7, 20076:45 pm

    Firebrand38
    The 1939 Time capsule.
    4932 years to go!
    Go to….
    http://www.archive.org/…
    Search for “time capsule”.

    Fascinating! And you dont have to wait 4932 years!

  7. Firebrand38 says: October 8, 20077:11 pm

    Thanks, try http://www.archive.org/… and avoid the search.

    I remember being a kid at the 64 World’s Fair and I still remember how unfair I thought it was that I wouldn’t be alive when that time capsule was raised!

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