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April 30: The World’s Fair

Lawrence Bush
April 30, 2010

759px-Maurice_Ascalon_1939_New_York_Worlds_FairA Jewish Palestine Pavilion was part of the New York World’s Fair, an extravaganza that opened in Flushing Meadow on this date in 1939, at the very edge of World War II. The Fair was the brainchild of a group of retired New York policemen. Edward Bernays, the public relations pioneer (a nephew of Sigmund Freud), handled publicity, and Robert Moses, the New York parks commissioner, worked closely with the Fair’s committee. Opening day was attended by 206,000 visitors and included addresses by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Albert Einstein. Revealed to the public for the first time were air-conditioning, color photography, nylon, plexiglass, the View-Master, the tampon, and Billy Rose’s Aquacade, featuring champion swimmers Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Holm. Many people also glimpsed their first televisions at the Fair. More than sixty countries participated, and more than 44 million visitors wandered the grounds over the course of two seasons. The Jewish Palestine Pavilion featured an art deco sculptured façade, “The Scholar, the Laborer, and the Toiler of the Soil,” by Maurice Ascalon. For a fascinating article about the Pavilion’s souvenir program, see Andrew Silow-Carroll’s column in the New Jersey Jewish News.
“Westinghouse buried a time capsule to be opened in 6939. . . . But they couldn’t preserve the one thing we’d really want from the era: its inhabitants’ sense of wonder and hope. That alien faith in man and his ability to build a world. That’s buried somewhere deeper, forever irretrievable.” —Elliott Kalan

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.