Smiling at Progress

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“For Century 21 to live up to its name, the fair needed corporate exhibits that gave visitors a glimpse of what the future might hold. One of the first U.S. exhibitors to sign on was the Ford Motor Company, thanks to Joe Gandy. Initially, Ford had no interest in the fair, but Gandy was able to meet with a top executive in the company. Using his best “I’m-an-old-Ford-salesman” charm, he made the deal. Ford’s “An Adventure in Outer Space” would become one of the hits of the fair.

Back in Seattle, Boeing proved to be a harder sell. Boeing president Bill Allen (1900-1985) despised fairs. He predicted that Century 21 would be a financial disaster. It looked as if Boeing would have nothing to do with Century 21, but Gandy’s friend and right-hand man, William Street, patiently worked on Allen. In due time, he convinced the Boeing exec that it would be a shame if his company weren’t represented at a science exposition. Boeing came on board with their Spacearium, which also became a hit with visitors.

Some of the Pavilions included:

The World of Science: Science exhibits surrounded the “space gothic” arches that towered over the southern section of the fairgrounds. The most popular attraction here was Boeing’s Spacearium, which took up to 750 visitors on an imaginary 10-minute excursion to the outer galaxies.

The World of Tomorrow: Housed in the Washington State Coliseum, this exhibit gave a glimpse of what the future might hold. Up to 100 visitors could ride the Bubbleator (a large, glass, globe) up into a honeycomb of cubes that foretold the future. The House of Tomorrow might include disposable dishes, automatic windows, and changeable color schemes. Gyrocopters might zip and whiz you to the Office of Tomorrow, which might have miniature micro-mail, machines to transmit correspondence, and machines that communicated with each other. You might even have a 24-hour workweek, with an astronomical salary of $12,000 a year!

The World of Commerce and Industry: The largest and most diverse of the five themed areas included exhibits from countries such as Canada, India, Japan, China, Sweden, France, and the United Arab Republic, among others. Domestic exhibitors included IBM, Standard Oil, General Electric, and the Ford Motor Company.

-Excerpted from “Century 21 — The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair”, by Alan J. Stein,