It’s hard to believe, but it’s been fifty years since the Seattle World’s Fair of 1962, also known as the Century 21 Exposition. I was there fifty years ago next month. I was thirteen then. (Go ahead, do the math.) I couldn’t wait to get there.
The Space Needle featured what was then the first revolving restaurant in the sky, making a 360 degree trip once an hour. The Monorail was also one of the first.
There were a lot of other “firsts” at the fair. The U.S. Science Pavilion featured the first public display of a laser beam. What must have been a very early prototype of an electric car could be found at the GE Pavilion. Belgium waffles (then unknown in the U.S.) were the big hit at the Food Circus.
A million silver dollars were on display. (A lot of money in 1962.) They didn’t give away samples, but for a quarter you could have a copper penny pressed with an image of the Space Needle and Monorail. I still have mine somewhere.
I believe I also still have my Heinz pickle pin. They were little (a little more than an inch long) plastic pins the company gave away by the millions beginning at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
Strippers appeared on the fair’s midway. I didn’t get to see any of them.
It was all very cool, I thought, and very exciting.
Elvis was asked to perform at the fair. The Colonel declined. Instead Presley worked on a (really bad) movie there called “It Happened at the World’s Fair” which apparently was shot mainly at night after the gates closed.
President Kennedy was scheduled to help close the fair on October 21. The White House canceled his appearance, blaming a (Cold War) “cold.” More likely, his attention was focused on what would become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Critics said Seattle was too small of a city to host a world’s fair, but unlike other similar expositions before and since, Century 21 was a pretty big hit. It got enormous advance attention. Few were disappointed in it, unlike like the New York World’s Fair a couple years later and the New Orleans World’s Fair even later.
World’s fairs seem to be a thing of the past. There have been fewer and fewer of them in recent years. (Apparently, there’s one going on now until August 12 in Yeosu, South Korea called Expo 2012.) They’re smaller now and they don’t seem to capture our imagination the way they once did. But Seattle’s did.