HemisFair ’68, When The World’s Fair Came to Texas

Today’s post was written by Caitlin Hucik and James Konicek.

Still taken from US

The first World Exposition sanctioned by the Bureau International des Expositions was named the Great Exhibition and held in 1851 London, England. Since then, over 30 sanctioned expos have been held every 5 to 10 years. In 1968, San Antonio hosted the World’s Fair named HemisFair ‘68. Like prior fairs, the United States Government helped to create the United States exhibit. Part of the exhibit included a film sponsored by the Department of Commerce. The film titled US, a celebration of the diverse cultural heritage of the United States, was the centerpiece of the “Confluence U.S.A.” Pavilion. The finished film, as well as footage created for but not used in the finished production, are now part of NARA’s motion picture holdings in RG 43: Records of International Conferences, Commissions, and Expositions, 1825–1979

Special Media Holdings in Record Group 43

Record Group 43 consists of records produced by U.S. Government agencies contributing to international conferences, commissions, expositions, and documents created during those events. Special Media Holdings in this record group include photographs of Central and South America from the International Railway Commission Survey, the drawings and blueprints of U.S. exhibits created for the International Colonial and Overseas Exposition held in Paris in 1931, audio recordings from an International Conference on Antarctica, and records relating to the proposed intercontinental railway created by the intercontinental railway commissions from 1890-1899. 

About the Film, US

Researchers can find motion picture holdings created for the U.S. Federal Pavilion at the 1968 HemisFair in Record Group 43, series US. The US series consists of outtakes, trims, and footage created for but not used in the film titled US, which Francis Thompson and Alexander Hammid produced for the U.S. Department of Commerce for use during the fair. The film tells the history of America, paying particular attention to how the country’s development shaped the land. It highlights the diverse cultural makeup of the country and how different people live. The film was considered ahead of its time for tackling the subjects of race, economic inequities, and pollution. The narration written for the film by poet W.H. Auden reinforces the concepts displayed visually. The entirety of the film’s narration is below.   

The completed film was projected in the Confluence Theatre by three synchronized projectors on three adjoining screens wrapped around the audience. The producer, Francis Thompson, used this innovative technology before in his film To Be Alive!, which was produced by S.C. Johnson and Son for the Johnson Wax Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. This film display technique, a testament to the technological advancements of the time, made the audience feel surrounded by the footage. It also allowed for greater creative control over the footage with options to unify, contrast, and compare images while keeping a unified aesthetic on the screens. (Presentation of the Film US at the Confluence Theater, Federal Pavilion, HemisFair ‘68) The National Archives does hold a print copy of the film in 70mm. It is comprised of separate projection reels for the images that appeared on the left, center, and right screens, respectively. There is also a single-strand print that combines each of the three separate panel images into single frames and anamorphically compressed to fit in one 70mm frame.

Page taken from Confluence, U.S.A. booklet showing US projected on center and right screens of the Confluence Theater

How to Use 43-US in Research 

The footage in the 43-US series includes outtakes and trims created during the editing process and footage shot for the project but not used in the final product. These shots capture daily life in the United States’ cities and rural areas during the 1960’s. The color footage depicts a wide range of topics, including shots of bridges, skyscrapers, parades, manufacturing plants, children playing, and national parks.

The viewing copies of this footage made available to researchers in the Moving Image and Sound  Research Room are organized into categories. Some examples are NYC Travel Along Streets, Tree Planting, Job Sequence, Italian Festival, and Harlem. Once footage of interest is identified, the researcher must do extra work to cross-reference the viewing copies with copies used for ordering reproductions, which have different local identifiers.  Make a note of the edge number printed on the reference film. This number correlates to the local identification number associated with the specific footage. In the “Harlem” example below, the edge number is A13x35389. The edge number is used to locate that footage for reproduction purposes. This example has a local identification number of 43-US-13×35388-35785.

Edge number A13X35389 from reference copy of 43-US-13×35388-35785
Clip from 43-US-13×35388-35785

Creating the HemisFair

When San Antonio was chosen to host the 1968 International Exposition, local business leaders planning the event knew they wanted to use it to celebrate the city’s founding and 250th anniversary and develop its reputation as a cultural and historical destination. The exposition’s theme, “The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas,” was chosen to highlight the multicultural makeup of the city of San Antonio, the Southwestern United States, and the country as a whole. The name of the exposition, HemisFair ‘68, was conceived by local civic leader Jerome Harris Sr. and was chosen to draw attention to the shared cultural heritage of San Antonio and the nations of Latin America. This event was a significant milestone in San Antonio’s history, showcasing the city’s cultural and historical importance.  (Texas State Historical Association)

More than thirty nations and fifteen corporations hosted pavilions at the fair. Nations represented with their own pavilions included Canada, Mexico, Italy, Spain, West Germany, Venezuela, and Bolivia. Shared pavilions represented more countries, such as the five-nation Central American pavilion comprised of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. Exhibitors created themes representing their country, organization, or business in their pavilions using various techniques such as exhibits, art installations, and films.

The United States Pavilion’s theme, Confluence, U.S.A, was chosen to reflect the overall theme of the exposition. President Johnson described the theme as “the story of the diverse cultures of peoples everywhere…merged in the United States of America.” The two-building complex sat on nearly 5 acres of land with exhibit space and a large circular theater that played the film. US The U.S. Department of Commerce was involved in developing the Confluence, U.S.A. exhibit. They created a brochure for visitors that describes the design of the pavilion itself as well as the themes presented in the exhibition. A copy of this brochure is below. 

The HemisFair was a massive undertaking for San Antonio. The 92-acre site was formerly the location of an area known as Germantown, a neighborhood made up of German, Mexican, Polish, and African-American immigrants. The city acquired the land for the project through eminent domain, demolishing 1,349 structures to develop the grounds. The total cost of construction exceeded 155 million dollars. When the HemisFair held its opening ceremony in April of 1968, the site contained dozens of buildings and pavilions, a monorail, a convention center, an arena, and a 622-foot tall tower called the Tower of the Americas. (Texas State Historical Association)

Still taken from 43-US-5×10429-10823

Additional Resources

A complete version of the film US is not available online. However, the Texas Archive of the Moving Image has a partially reconstructed digital copy on its website. The Texas Archive also has an online exhibit discussing HemisFair ‘68, its planning, construction, event, and legacy. To learn more about NARA’s holdings relating to World’s Fairs, please visit these past blog posts on the Unwritten Record. Additional clips from 43-US films are below.

Clip from 43-US-13×35388-35785
Clip from 43-US-5×10429-10823
Clip from 43-US-18×67325-67721

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