10 Things You Didn’t Know About: World’s Fairs

This Top 10 list was inspired by a recent Ask Antique Trader question from a Lucasville, Ohio, reader inquiring about a Coca-Cola paper weight.

1. While World’s Fairs are temporary, their impacts have had lasting impacts and effects. Take the formidable structures unveiled during world fairs, such as Museum of Science and Industry – built for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Seattle’s Space Needle of the 1962 World’s Fair, and the Eiffel Tower, built for the Exposition Universelle in 1889. In fact, some people wanted the Eiffel Tower dismantled after the fair!

2. There is an active community of people keeping the history and interest in present-day World’s Fairs alive – two popular online sites are WorldsFairCommunity.com with a very active Forum section and ExpoMuseum.com – a site rich with history and details about past and present World’s Fairs.

3. Since 1994 there’s been a World’s Fair Memorabilia Show held in Chicago every year. Largely focused on the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933-34, the event also includes items from other World’s Fairs.

4. One of the most visited sites devoted to World’s Fair memorabilia is the Queens Museum of Art. The museum is home to the Panorama of the City of New York, built for an unveiled at the 1964 World’s Fair.

 

Lithographed ticket to the 1889 Paris World’s Fair
The Exposition Universelle was held during the year of the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. The main symbol of the Fair was the newly built Eiffel Tower, completed earlier that year, which served as the entrance arch to the Fair. 
Photo courtesy Cowan’s Auction.

5. The Library of Congress contains 468 references on the topic of World’s Fairs. These resources include everything from new products unveiled at World’s Fairs, maps of fair grounds, music, food and industries of the World’s, and tragedies surrounding World’s Fairs, among other topics.

6. Memorabilia from World’s Fairs are a popular item of auction house and antiques shops around the world, and online auction sites across the Internet. The items range from the very rare, like a cast iron doorstop (show above) from the 1939 New York World’s Fair which sold at auction for $1,200, to the more common items such as World’s Fair postcards which, when found, can be purchased for as little a few dollars up to a few hundred, depending on age, condition, and topic.

7. eBay, regularly lists between 5,000 and 10,000 World’s Fair related items for auction.

 

8.A focal point of every World’s Fair is technology, innovation, industrial development, and in turn many items that are part of our society today, or served as the catalyst for things we use today, made their debut at these fairs. The list includes: 

  • Studebaker Land Cruiser – 1933 Chicago World’s Fair
  • Ford Mustang – 1964 New York World’s Fair
  • Cracker Jack, Juicy Fruit gum and Cream of Wheat – 1893 Chicago World’s Fair,
  • The ice cream cone – 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair
  • Ferris Wheel – 1893 Chicago World’s Fair
  • Touch screen displays and Cherry Coke – 1982 Knoxville World’s Fair.

9. The first documented World’s Fair was the 1851 Great Exhibition, held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. The Crystal Palace, built specifically for the Great Exhibition, was designed by Joseph Paxton, an English gardener and architect who later received knighthood for his role in creating The Crystal Palace.

10. Expo 2010 Shanghai China set records for the most countries represented and largest site for a World’s Fair, and it broke the record for the most attendance (more than 73 million people – including 1.03 million on a single day) at an Expo.

Sources: LiveAuctioners.com, Cowan’s Auctions, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, WorldsFairCommunity.com, ExpoMuseum.com, eBay, mental_floss blog, The Tennessee Journalist online, and www.queensmuseum.org.

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More Images:

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It's not too difficult to locate memorabilia from any of the World's Fairs. However, some stand out more than others. This rare oak dresser, built to commemorate the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, features an ornate horseshoe style frame, and a beveled mirror with shelves. It was made of Corinthian burled elm on dovetailed drawers. The era's Art Nouveau style is found in the original brass pulls and carvings. A logo, a dove holding olive branches suspended over a globe of the Earth, is featured prominently on the second and third drawers. The rare dresser sold for $1,100 in a Sept. 10, 2011 sale by the Burley Auction Group. of New Braunfels, Texas.
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