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What Happened to the World’s Fair?

What Happened to the World’s Fair?

The World’s Fair ended, what, five, maybe six decades ago, right? If you live in America, chances are that’s what you believe. The remains of World’s Fair grounds, like the 1964 New York World’s Fair, are frequently abandoned and blighted ghost towns, used as props in Will Smith comedies, or photographed for urban exploration blogs.

1964 NY World's Fair

Above, a remnant of the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  It’s been featured in a number of Hollywood blockbusters like Men in Black and Iron Man 2. Photo from

The World’s Fair origins of fairgrounds like Seattle’s Space Needle and monorail have largely been forgotten by America’s younger generation. What is a World’s Fair, anyway?

World's Fair 1939
The Ford Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair
The Jamestown Expo in Norfolk, 1907.
World’s Fair St. Louis, 1904


The Electric Tower, centerpiece of the World’s Fair, Buffalo, 1904. The fair would become infamous as the place where President McKinley was shot by an assassin. The President died 8 days later.

Would you be surprised to know the last American World’s Fair happened in 1984 in New Orleans, and that it holds the dubious distinction of being the only expo to go broke? That was my era, and even I don’t remember it.

The truth is, The World’s Fair has continued on since the glory days, but it has carried on without the United States.  There’s an interesting documentary, “Where’s the Fair?” — winner of multiple film festivals — that explores the reasons why the United States has been absent from the World’s Fair scene and whether anything can be done to bring it back.  Check out the trailer.

Where’s The Fair? Official Trailer from Pavilion Pictures on Vimeo.  We would urge you to check out their Facebook page and follow the project.

Some former US World Fair sites:

The Centennial Exposition – Philadelphia World’s Fair 1876. Four buildings still stand from this expo.  39°59′9.8″N 75°12′22.8″W

World Cotton Centennial – New Orleans World’s Fair 1884.  Marked by scandal and corruption exactly one hundred years before another disastrous New Orleans World Fair. Today, it’s Audubon Park and Zoo.

World’s Columbian Exposition – Chicago World’s Fair 1893.  Two buildings still stand in their original locations.  41°47′24″N 87°34′48″W

Panama-Pacific International Exposition – San Francisco World’s Fair 1915.  A surprising number of buildings still exist from this fair in San Francisco.  37°48′16.8″N 122°26′48″W

Golden Gate International Exposition –  New York World’s Fair 1939. The building now home to the Queens Museum of Art is the only structure remaining.  40°44′38.5″N 73°50′39.9″W

Expo ’74 – Spokane World’s Fair, 1974.  The first environmentally-themed World Fair.  47°39′43.9″N 117°25′8.4″W

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