Old Meets New: Florida at the 1939 ‘World of Tomorrow’

Florida PavilionFlorida Pavilion at 1939 World’s Fair New York. Photo Courtesy: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Visitors to the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York (now the location for the Queens Museum) were amazed by the exhibits highlighting the futuristic ‘World of Tomorrow.’ At the entrance stood the iconic 700-foot Trylon obelisk and the 18-story Perisphere. Inside the Perisphere was the display called “Democracity,” a model utopian city set one hundred years into the future. The Trylon and Perisphere have become the preeminent symbols of the 1939 World’s Fair. Tourists visited the General Motors’ “Futurama” exhibit featuring elaborate dioramas of a visionary skyline for 1960, and the Ford Company’s “Road of Tomorrow,” which was made of cork and rubber. Equally as progressive yet undoubtedly bizarre was Spanish Surrealist artist Salvador Dali’s underwater erotic fantasy “The Dream of Venus” attraction. Florida appeared once again at the World’s Fair but unlike the other futuristic exhibits, the Florida pavilion presented an exposition celebrating Florida’s Spanish past and influence. 

1939 Worlds Fair at NightWorld’s Fair at night, September 15, 1939. Photo Courtesy: Library of Congress

Worlds Fair 1939 NY World’s Fair Grounds, March 1940. Photo Courtesy: National Archives

FuturamaGeneral Motors “Futurama.” Photo Courtesy: General Motors Media Archive

Ford-Road of TomorrowFord’s “Road of Tomorrow.” Photo Courtesy: General Motors Media Archive

Dali_Dream of VenusSalvador Dali’s “The Dream of Venus.”  © Cotidianul.ro

The Florida pavilion was reminiscent of the colonial days when the Spanish explorer Ponce de León and his conquistadors first landed in St. Augustine. But the architecture was also emblematic of Florida’s Mediterranean Revival style with its pastel-painted stucco walls, archways, fountains, statuary, and-at the time-the world’s largest carillon-a set of bells typically located in the bell tower. Florida Governor Fred P. Cone described Florida as “America’s exotic wonderland” in his introduction featured in the colorful souvenir brochure. The exhibit acted as an open invitation for everyone to visit Florida. Similar to the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, the Florida exhibit set out to make the state the tourist capital of America. The Florida building housed forty-five exhibits including spectoramas and dioramas that showcased many of the state’s sites and attractions. The idyllic year-round weather allows for a wide variety of outdoor recreation and leisure-time activity. The exhibits also emphasized Florida’s agriculture industries such as oranges, grapefruits, and fish. 

Florida_1939 Worlds Fair_2Photo Courtesy: World’s Fair Historical Society 

Florida_1939 Worlds Fair_1Photo Courtesy: World’s Fair Historical Society 

Florida_1939 Worlds Fair_4Photo Courtesy: World’s Fair Historical Society

Inside Florida PavilionPhoto Courtesy: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

 -Marvin Aguilar 


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