In April of 1964, the World’s Fair opened in New York. It was a spectacular vision of the future, reflecting the spirit of the Jet Age, the optimism of a post-war America that the future held limitless potential. The sound barrier had been broken by an American pilot. The American space program was working feverishly toward putting a man on the moon. American factories were turning out all manner of machines intended to make life easier and more comfortable, many festooned with fins and chrome, shining reflections of the technological breakthroughs of the era.
In retrospect, the 1964 World’s Fair helped to mark the end of that time. Opening less than a year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and only a few months before the Gulf of Tonkin incident that would initiate American military involvement in Vietnam, the World’s Fair was in some ways a last gasp of the 1950s. In the popular imagination, the 1960s were characterized by war, protest, and political division, not hope for a better future through technology.
Fifty two years later, the grounds are now a park. Most of the exhibits are gone, and what’s left has suffered decades of neglect. Some have been restored, while others wait their turn. For most park visitors, they’re just part of the background. As one wanders among them, the thought that America may again be in a period of transition from technology-fueled optimism to nervous uncertainty about events at home and abroad is never far away. Just as in 1964, we won’t know until the future is now.