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 ImagineeringDisney.com

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

Original Content Copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

4 thoughts on “What Happened to the World’s Fair?

  1. The Seattle World’s Fair site is still a popular park and all of the major buildings are still in use, including the Space Needle, Science Center, Coliseum, International Fountain, and some of the smaller pavilions. The Monorail still runs, the Horiuchi Mural stands and pre-1962 buildings like the armory are still in use.

  2. I was able to attend the world’s fair in 1974 when it was in Spokane, Washington. I was going into my junior year in high school and my mom, dad and mom’s one brother went there from North Dakota. One reason why we went (I think) was because my father wanted so much to see the Russian Pavilion and we stood in long for quite a long time waiting for our turn to go in there. Once in, dad made sure that he was able to visit with some of the people working in that building, and we talked and visited and shared stories with those men for quite some time…. long enough for security guards to start circling us and begin to close in. I’d like to think that our conversation gave these people a glimpse of our American lives, but whether they believed us, we’ll never know. At one point these men started talking amongst themselves and said in Russian that we must be lying, we told such fantastic things. Dad heard that and answered them back in their own language….see dad along with his mother, brother and a sister emigrated from the Ukraine when he was about three years old to America to join my grandpa who was already here, so by “catching” these men and talking in their own language , it was an ice breaker. After that, these men were much friendlier and they GAVE us a few small trinkets that were for sale there at the pavilion to remember them by. I’ve long forgotten their names, but I hope that our visit somehow changed their lives in some way. Time will only tell.

  3. I attended the Spokane World’s Fair as a child. We were in Washington State visiting relatives and my parents took us to the fair. I remember all the booths with different foods from all over the world. I thought it was fantastic.

  4. It is my understanding that The NY Worlds Fair in 1964/65 lost money. I visited that fair. It was a wonderful experience. The new inventions. The world culture on display. I know one thing. If a project loses money, it would be hard to find investors including a city, state and our federal governments. The key would be to come up with a plan that would make the Worlds Fair concept profitable.

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