Flushing Meadows–Corona Park is a public park containing the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the current venue for the US Open; Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets; the New York Hall of Science, the Queens Museum of Art, the Queens Theatre in the Park, the Queens Wildlife Center and the New York State Pavilion. It was created as the site of the 1939 World’s Fair.
Rental boats are available for rowing and paddle boating on the park’s Meadow Lake, which feeds northward into the Flushing River and thence into Flushing Bay. Meadow Lake is the site of rowing activities for non-profit Row New York, with teams practising on the lake for much of the year. The lake also hosts the annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York, and teams from New York practise in the lake during the summer months. The American Small Craft Association (TASCA) also houses a fleet of over a dozen 14.5-inch sloop-rigged sailboats which are used for teaching, racing and recreation by the club’s members.
Bicycling paths extend around Meadow Lake and connect to the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway. Paths around Willow Lake, the smaller and higher of the two lakes, in a natural wetlands area in the little-used far southern section of the park, are currently closed to the public. The many recreational playing fields and playgrounds in the park are used for activities that reflect the vast ethnic mix of Queens; soccer and cricket are especially popular.
The 1939–40 New York World’s Fair, which covered the 1,216 acres of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, was the second largest American world’s fair of all time, exceeded only by St. Louis’s Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. Many countries around the world participated in it, and over 44 million people attended its exhibits in nearly two years.
The NYWF of 1939–1940 was the first exposition to be based on the future, with an opening slogan of “Dawn of a New Day”, and it allowed all visitors to take a look at “the world of tomorrow”. On April 30, 1939, a very hot Sunday, the fair had its grand opening, with 206,000 people in attendance. This date coincided with the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration as President in New York City.
Although many of the pavilions and other facilities were not quite ready for this opening, it was put on with pomp and great celebration. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the opening day address, and as a reflection of the wide range of technological innovation on parade at the fair, his speech was not only broadcast over the various radio networks, but also televised.
An estimated 1,000 people viewed the Roosevelt telecast from about 200 television sets scattered throughout the New York area. In addition to Roosevelt’s speech, Albert Einstein gave a speech which discussed cosmic rays. This was followed by the ceremonial lighting of the fair’s lights. Dignitaries received a special Opening Day Program that contained their names written in Braille.
One of the first exhibits to receive attention was the Westinghouse Time Capsule, which was not to be opened for 5,000 years, not until 6939. The time capsule was a tube containing writings by Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann, copies of Life Magazine, a Mickey Mouse watch, a Gillette Safety Razor, a kewpie doll, a dollar in change, a pack of Camel cigarettes, millions of pages of text on microfilm, and much more. The capsule also contained seeds of foods in common use at the time: wheat, corn, oats, tobacco, cotton, flax, rice, soy beans, alfalfa, sugar beets, carrots and barley, all sealed in glass tubes. The time capsule is located at a depth of 15 m with a small stone plaque marking the position.
Other exhibits included Vermeer’s painting “The Milkmaid” from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, a streamlined pencil sharpener, a diner (still in operation in Jersey City), a futuristic installation of a car-based city by General Motors and early televisions. There was also a huge globe/planetarium located near the centre of the fair. Bell Labs’ Voder, a keyboard-operated speech synthesizer, was demonstrated at the Fair.
The copy of Magna Carta belonging to Lincoln Cathedral also left Britain in 1939 for the first time to be shown in the British Pavilion at the fair. Within months Britain joined World War II and it was deemed safer for it to remain in America until the end of hostilities. It therefore remained in Fort Knox, next to the original copy of the American constitution, until 1947.
Other firsts at the fair included colour photography, nylon, air conditioning, fluorescent lamps and Smell-O-Vision (a system that released odour during the projection of a film so that the viewer could “smell” what was happening on screen).
The fair was themed. It was divided into different “zones” (the Transportation Zone, the Communications and Business Systems Zone, the Food Zone, the Government Zone, and so forth). Virtually every structure erected on the fairgrounds was extraordinary, and many of them were experimental in many ways. Architects were encouraged by their corporate or government sponsors to be creative, energetic and innovative. Novel building designs, materials and furnishings were the norm.
The fair was open for two seasons, from April to October each year, and was officially closed forever on October 27, 1940. The great fair attracted over 45 million visitors and generated roughly $48 million in revenue. Since the Fair Corporation had invested 67 million dollars (in addition to nearly a hundred million dollars from other sources), it proved a financial failure, and the corporation declared bankruptcy.
Countries under the rule of the Axis powers in Europe in 1940, for instance Poland, Czechoslovakia and France, ran their pavilions with a special nationalistic pride. The only major world power that did not participate for the 1939 season was Germany, citing budget pressures. The Soviet Pavilion was dismantled after the first season, leaving an empty lot called “The American Commons”. When the fair closed, many among the European staff were unable to return to their home countries, so they remained in America and in some cases exercised a tremendous influence on American culture.
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was also the location of the 1964–1965 World’s Fair.
Hailing itself as a “universal and international” exposition, the 1964/1965 Fair’s theme was “Peace Through Understanding”, and it was dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe”. The theme was symbolised by a 12-storey-high, stainless-steel model of the Earth called the Unisphere.
The 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair was the third major world’s fair to be held in New York City. The fair ran for two six-month seasons, April 22–October 18, 1964 and April 21–October 17, 1965. The site had previously held the Fair in 1939. Preceding these fairs was the 1853-54 New York’s World’s Fair, called the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, located on the site of Bryant Park in the borough of Manhattan, New York City.
The fair presented many American products from several branches of industry in a way that would never be repeated at future world’s fairs in North America. Most American companies from pen manufacturers to auto companies had a major presence. The 1964/1965 World’s Fair gave many attendees their first interaction with computer equipment. Many corporations demonstrated the use of mainframe computers, computer terminals with keyboards and CRT displays, Teletype machines, punch cards, and telephone modems in an era when computer equipment was kept in back offices away from the public, decades before the Internet and home computers were at everyone’s disposal.
The fair is best remembered as a showcase of mid-20th-century American culture and technology. The nascent Space Age, with its vista of promise, was well represented. More than 51 million people attended the fair, less than the hoped-for 70 million. It remains a touchstone for New York–area Baby Boomers, who visited the optimistic fair as children before the turbulent years of the Vietnam War, cultural changes, and increasing struggles for civil rights.