Collection on the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, 1934-1993

Extent:47 boxes
New York’s celebrated World’s Fair of 1939-1940, held on a former ash dump in Flushing Meadows, Queens, drew millions of visitors with its promise to reveal “The World of Tomorrow.” The collection documents the Fair from both a corporate and visitor perspective. A variety of object-types are represented including photographs, design renderings, publications, administrative records, printed ephemera, drawings, and three-dimensional commemorative objects and souvenirs.

Scope and Content

The Collection on the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair is comprised of a variety of object types reflecting both a corporate and visitor perspective. Photographs constitute the largest series, grouped in 13 sub-series by creator. Photographic highlights include Kodachrome slides by amateur photographers that show off the Fair’s dazzling colors, over 600 publicity prints demonstrating the Fair’s vaunted marketing strategies, and unique compositions by architectural photographers Richard Wurts and Samuel Herman Gottscho. Also of special significance are 391 design renderings created between 1936-1938 that illustrate buildings, displays and objects that were considered for inclusion in the Fair.  The renderings demonstrate the Fair’s artistic and social vision while standing as significant artworks on their own.

The collection includes a large quantity of printed ephemera documenting the Fair’s activities and exhibits, including pamphlets, brochures, programs, handbills, tickets, guides, and maps. Over 300 postcards, many with stamps and handwritten notes, also provide a window into the visitor experience. Advertisements created by exhibitors provide evidence of the marketing of consumer goods and tourism. The transformation of Flushing Meadows from swampland to Fair site is tracked by a variety of internal and external publications. Memorandums, correspondence, design plans, fabric samples, schedules, and regulations also document the Fair’s execution.

Many Fairgoers celebrated their visit by purchasing and holding fast to a variety of souvenirs, from ephemeral items to more permanent household goods. The collection includes over 70 such items, including buttons, plates, cutlery, ashtrays, scarves, dolls, jewelry, thermometers, toys, albums, booklets, lamps, and a chair.

The collection is arranged in 11 series:

Series I: Administrative, 1934-1940 (bulk 1938-1939)
Series II: Promotional, 1936-1941
Series III: Visiting the Fair, 1938-1940
Series IV: Zones and Exhibits, 1937-1940
Series V: Press and Publications, 1937-1993 (bulk 1938-1939)
Series VI: Photographs, 1937-1942
Series VII: Commemorative Objects, 1936-1940
Series VIII: Design Renderings, 1936-1938 
Series IX: Architectural Elements
Series X: Artwork, 1939-1940
Series XI: Audiovisual

Some series are further arranged in sub-series; see series descriptions for more detail. Photographs and Artwork are arranged by creator. All other materials have been interfiled and arranged based on subject and/or object type.

Click here to view the full finding aid for the Collection on the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair.

Click here to view the Container List, Appendix A: Donor List, Appendix B: George Bader Slides, Appendix C: William Dobak Slides, and Appendix D: Press and Publications.


Click here to view all images of the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair on the Collections Portal.