A week before the fair, finishing touches were still being put on exhibits. The Monorail was tested, as was the elevator to the top of the Needle and the Bubbleator inside the Coliseum. Seattle businesses readied for the 10 million people expected to visit the fair over the next six months.
The night before the gates opened, a gala celebration for nearly a thousand dignitaries was held in the Grand Ballroom at the Olympic Hotel. Afterwards many of them rode the Monorail to the fairgrounds, and watched the premier of the Boeing Spacearium film. At midnight, the Space Needle was christened.
The gates to the Century 21 Exposition opened at 11 a.m. on April 21, 1962. A 21-gun salute was fired with a 334-year-old cannon recovered from the Swedish warship Vasa. At that moment, President John F. Kennedy, on Easter holiday in Florida, pressed a telegraph key to start the fair. The key, festooned with gold nuggets, was the same key that President William Howard Taft had used to open the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle in 1909. This time, instead of a simple coast-to-coast electronic signal, the key triggered a radio telescope in Maine, which picked up an impulse from a star 10,000 light years away. This impulse was directed towards the fairgrounds to start the festivities. The future had arrived.
The Space Needle Carillon clanged its 538 bells over 44 loudspeakers, 2,000 balloons with “See You In Seattle” written on them were released high into the air. Water-skiers gaily circled a course set up within the stadium, while aerialists rode a motorcycle on top of a cable running between the stadium and the Space Needle. Aerial bombs burst, raining tiny flags down upon the attendees, and 10 Air Force F-102s roared overhead. By this time, the mist from the morning overcast burned off, and the sun broke through. It was a beautiful day in Seattle.
To this day, the Space Needle and the Monorail entice visitors to Seattle, but many of the exhibit buildings have been torn down. The Coliseum, now called KeyArena, and the Food Circus are still around, as is the Science Pavilion, renamed the Pacific Science Center. The grounds are now called Seattle Center, but the fair is no more.
During its six-month lifespan, close to 10 million people visited Century 21. Many of them returned home with wondrous stories to last them for the rest of their lives.
-Excerpted from “Century 21 — The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair”, by Alan J. Stein, HistoryLink.org