The 1964 New York World’s Fair opened fifty years ago this week, on April 22nd, with the theme of “Man’s Achievements in an Expanding Universe.” If this extended Universal News story leaves you with the impression that the fair was not a runaway success, that’s because it wasn’t. The fair was not sanctioned by the Bureau of International Expositions, and it was sandwiched between the official 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and Expo 67 in Montreal, making it a less compelling draw. The opening day’s unfortunately dreary weather was emblematic of the entire two-season event; total attendance for the fair came in at fifty-one million, yet that fell short of the expected seventy million visitors. You might recognize the Unisphere sculpture and “flying saucer” towers in the still below from the 1997 film Men in Black, where they feature prominently.
From the release sheet:
THE FAIR Are you ready? It’s here!! The long-awaited New York World’s Fair, which took four years to create, opens its doors to the first of 70,000,000 expected visitors. Dominated by the Fair’s symbol THE UNISPHERE (which means Peace through understanding) the billion-dollar-baby of Robert Moses covers 646 acres. You’ll stumble across all sorts of staggering statistics as you travel the 4c miles of walkways that wind through this City of Enchantment lined with 139 Pavilions. Five crystal-clear fountains oscillate 10 million gallons of water through 5,000 nozzles – illuminated by 2.5 million watts. There are enough telephones at the Fair for a city of 200,000. (See what we mean by staggering statistics . . .) Opening day is marred by rain. President Lyndon Johnson makes the opening speech. Approximately 100,000 spartan souls braved the soggy weather for their first glimpse of what some say is “the experience of a lifetime”. From the air . . . from the ground . . . here are some highlights of the World’s Fair – theme of which is worth repeating “PEACE THROUGH UNDERSTANDING”. For the historically minded: America’s first Fair was held in New York in 1853.
The Unisphere at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, on a dreary and rather empty-looking opening day.
About the Universal Newsreel Collection at NARA:
The Universal Newsreel Collection is one of the most used motion picture collections at the National Archives and Records Administration. Universal Newsreels were shown in movie theaters twice a week, from 1929 until 1967, and covered a wide range of American life and history during that time period. Each release usually contained five to seven stories averaging two minutes in length.
In 1974, Universal deeded its edited newsreel and outtake collection to the United States through the National Archives (NARA), and did not place any copyright restrictions on its use (some stories may contain other underlying intellectual property or proprietary use rights).
While Universal disposed of many of the soundtracks, leaving the newsreels incomplete, supplementary material like scripts, shot lists, and event programs can be found in the production files, available for research at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.