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The 1962 Seattle World's Fair

Enter Century 21

The Space Needle at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair

The Space Needle at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair

Back to the Future - Remembering the Century 21 Expo - the 1962 Seattle World's Fair

It has been more than fifty years since Seattle hosted the 1962 World's Fair with its futuristic theme of Century 21. As a child growing up in Seattle I can remember the anticipation and excitement in the city leading up to the opening day on April 21, 1962. The fun continued for six month, every day with new events and reports of famous visitors to Seattle until October 21, 1962, the last day of the fair.

The fair was held in the height of the "Space Race" and the cold war with Russia. The world was excited about the possibilities offered in the future with new technology and advances in science. NASA was created with the goal of sending the first man to the moon and beyond to explore space and US President, John F. Kennedy was inspiring the country to work together to advance scientific knowledge and technology.

During its six month run, approximately 10 million people attended the Century 21 Expo. Unlike many other World's Fairs and Expos, it made a profit. The goals of the Seattle World's Fair organizers were to put Seattle on the map and leave a legacy of a civic center for Seattle. They achieved all of their goals and more by leaving Seattle with its most familiar symbol, the Space Needle, the Seattle Center and by providing inspiration to a generation of young people who went on to have amazing achievements in science and technology.

The Construction Site of the Century 21 Expo

Seattle 1962 World Fair Site

Seattle 1962 World Fair Site

Planning the Seattle World's Fair

The organizers of the Seattle World's Fair started talking about having a fair in the 1950s. They originally wanted to have a fair to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition that had taken place in Seattle in 1909. They were considering a similar regional theme, but they soon realized that opening a fair by 1959 was not realistic and their western theme was not generating much excitement. Nonetheless, they continued planning and decided on a site for the fair. Their goal was to "put Seattle on the map" and to use the fair site and buildings after the fair was over to create a civic center for Seattle.

There was a successful local precedent for this type of plan - the site of the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition and its buildings had been turned into the University of Washington campus after the expo was over.

In 1957 an event would occur that provided the planning commission with an idea for a perfect theme for the Seattle World's Fair.

The First Sattlelite to Orbit The Earth

The Theme of the The Century 21 Exposition

On October 4, 1957 a startling event occurred which shocked the nation and provided the theme for the Seattle World's Fair. Sputnik 1, the first satellite to orbit the earth was launched by Russia. President Eisenhower addressed the country and urged everyone to make science and technology a higher priority with an emphasis on science education.

The Boeing Airplane Company, a major contractor for the government space program was the Seattle area's major employer at the time, so it was a good fit to change the theme of Seattle's 1962 World's fair to science, space and technology of the future. The promise of what might be possible in the next century became the theme and so the Seattle World's Fair officially was called the Century 21 Exposition.

Century 21 Exposition Begins April 21, 1962

On April 21st 1962 the Century 21 Exposition was officially opened by President John F. Kennedy with a tap on a telegraph key beamed through space from Florida to Seattle and the words "With this key may we open not only a great world's fair, may we open an era of peace and understanding among all mankind. Let the fair begin." The telegraph key President Kennedy used was the same key used by President Taft to open the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle in 1909.

Dignitaries at the fair in attendance at opening ceremony in Memorial Stadium included US Commerce Secretary Luther Hodges, U.S. Senator Warren G. Magnuson, Washington State Governor Albert D. Rossellini, Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton, and fair president Joe Gandy.

In this newsreel you can watch President Kennedy proclaiming the opening of the Seattle World's Fair on April 21, 1962.

The Seattle World's Fair Opened by President John F. Kennedy

The Seattle Monorail

Seattle Monorail Terminal 1962

Seattle Monorail Terminal 1962

Transportation of the Future - The Seattle Monorail

Since the location of the Century 21 fairgrounds was about a mile away from the "downtown" main business district of Seattle, a method was needed to transport visitors. In keeping with the futuristic theme of the fair, the Seattle Monorail was built as a demonstration of the future of public transportation. It was a very effective way to start people on their journey from 1962 to what was imagined the future would be like in the 21st century.

An Entrance to the 1962 Seattle World's Fair

Seattle1962  Worlds Fair Entrance Gate

Seattle1962 Worlds Fair Entrance Gate

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Entering the Century 21 Expo

This gate was the entrance to the world of the 21st century that was envisioned by scientists, corporations and governments in 1962. Enter to visit the Century 21 Expo - the Seattle 1962 World's Fair.

An Aerial View of the Space Needle

The Space Needle 1962

The Space Needle 1962

The Seattle Space Needle - Symbol of the Fair

The Space Needle was the centerpiece and symbol of the Century 21 Expo. In this vintage photo of the Space Needle when the Seattle World's Fair opened in 1962, the original colors had names from outer space:

Astronaut White for the supports and top

Orbital Olive for the central tower core

Re-entry Red for the halo

Galaxy Gold for the sunburst and pagoda roof.

Vintage 1962 Space Needle Jewelry - Century 21 World's Fair Collector's Jewelry

My aunt and uncle's jewelry company was selected to sell authorized Century 21 - Seattle World's Fair jewelry. I remember they gave me several pieces as gifts - unfortunately I have none of them left, but some of these collectors items can still be found on eBay.

The World of Science

US Science Building Seattle Worlds Fair 1962

US Science Building Seattle Worlds Fair 1962

The US Science Pavilion

The United States Science Exhibit was the centerpiece of the World of Science section of the Seattle World's fair. It was funded by 10 million dollar award from the US Government to try to encourage interest in science and math education. My favorite part was the Boeing Spacearium, a 10 minute simulated voyage into Space. Another popular highlight was the Friendship 7 space capsule that carried John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth into space.

The "World of Science" was not limited to space; the exhibit had displays about all different types of science including the latest advances in biology, genetics, mathematics and physics. Today the US Science Pavilion still provides education about the science as the home of the Seattle Pacific Science Center.

The World of Tomorrow

Seattle World Fair Washington State Coliseum

Seattle World Fair Washington State Coliseum

The Washington State Coliseum

The World of Tomorrow exhibit at the Seattle World's Fair was housed in the Washington State Coliseum building, shown in this photo while under construction. The "Bubbleator" elevator took visitors to up through a cloud of 3,662 aluminum cubes to the second floor where the exhibits mixed both the threats and the potential of the future. One of the more grim displays featured a family living in a fallout shelter while the more optimistic possibilities were high tech office equipment of the future and numerous time-saving household conveniences.

After the fair, the Washington State Coliseum became a sports arena for the Seattle Supersonics Basketball team and a venue for other sports and concerts. It is now called Key Arena.

The Elevator to the World of Tomorrow

The Bubbleator

As a child, I think the Bubbleator was one of my favorite things at the fair. The Bubbleator was a large, futuristic bubble-shaped elevator with glass walls. The special effects of the Bubbleator included flashing lights in changing colors and music from "Man in Space" composed by local musician, Art Mineo. The elevator operator had a cool looking console like something out of a space ship. The Bubbleator took up to 100 passengers at a time to and from the "World of Tomorrow" exhibit on the second floor of the Washington State Coliseum.

After the fair the Coliseum was turned into the sports arena and event venue that is known now as Key Arena and the Bubbleator was moved to the Center House at the Seattle Center. It remained in the Center House for a number of years. It was removed during one of the Center House renovations and parts of it sold to private individuals. There is a portion of it on display at Seattle's Museum of History and Industry.

The World of Commerce and Industry

World of Commerce and Industry Seattle Worlds Fair

World of Commerce and Industry Seattle Worlds Fair

International and Coporate Exhibits

The World of Commerce and Industry was largest and most diverse of the five areas. It featured international exhibits from 60 countries including Canada, India, Japan, China, Sweden, France, and the United Arab Republic. Notably absent were any displays by Russia or any of the other eastern bloc countries of Europe. US companies with exhibits included IBM, Standard Oil, General Electric, General Motors and the Ford Motor Company.

Seattle World's Fair Images

The Future of Communication in 1962

The Bell Laboratories exhibit at the expo introduced many new communication technologies' Among some of new telephone features shown at the fair include: pagers (remember when they were called "Bell boys"?), touch-tone dialing, call forwarding, call waiting and conference calls. In the half century since the fair, it is interesting to remember how some of these inventions didn't come into common usage until fairly recent times. Some other inventions that were inside the exhibit include transistors and solar powered batteries.

The World of Art

Horiuchi Mural Seattle Worlds Fair

Horiuchi Mural Seattle Worlds Fair

Masterpieces of Art at the Seattle World's Fair - By Norman Davis

Century 21 Art and Artists

The World of Art at the Century 21 Expo included sixty-one museums filled with art from around the world loaned. Old masterpieces created by artists Michelangelo, Titian, Renoir, Rembrandt, and Homer were included as well as modern art, ancient art from the far east, Northwest Native American art and art by local artists like Paul Horiuchi who created the mural in the above photo.

The Amusement Rides at the 1962 World's Fair

A Seattle World's Fair Gayway Postcard

A Seattle World's Fair Gayway Postcard

Entertainment at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair

Entertainment at the Seattle World's Fair covered every kind of entertainment imaginable - ice shows. ballet, concerts featuring musicians like Van Cliburn and Igor Stravinsky, boxing matches and water skiing. There was adult only entertainment with a show featuring nude puppets and Gracie Hansen's "A Night in Paradise" Las Vegas style burlesque. There was fun for all ages with an assortment of futuristic amusement park rides in the Gayway area.

The World of Entertainment

Seattle World Fair 1962 Ice Follies

Seattle World Fair 1962 Ice Follies

Century 21 Expo Celebrity Visitors

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley

Famous People Who Perfomed at the Seattle World's Fair

As a young girl living in the Seattle during the fair, one of the most exciting visitors was Elvis Presley who filmed "It Happened at the World's Fair" at the Century 21 Expo and at other locations around Seattle. Some of the performers that appeared at the fair included:

Van Cliburn

Igor Stravinsky

Sammy Davis Jr.

Louis Armstrong

Victor Borge

Mike Nichols

Elaine May

Lawrence Welk

Johnny Mathis

Maurice Chevalier

Nat King Cole

Ella Fitzgerald

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

Patrice Munsel

Elvis Presley - "It Happened at the World's Fair" Movie Trailer

Some Famous People who Visited the Fair

Some other famous people who didn't perform but visited the fair included:

Elvis Presley

Kurt Russell

Gary Lockwood

John Glenn

Russian Cosmonaut Gherman Titov

Edward R. Murrow

Ray Bradbury

Rod Serling

John Wayne

Jack Lemmon

Bobby Kennedy along with his wife Ethel and their children

Vice President, Lyndon Johnson

Carl Reiner

Carol Channing

George Burns

Dr. Jonas Salk

Rafer Johnson

Walt Disney

Danny Kaye

Adlai Stevenson

Bob Hope

Peggy Lee

Richard Nixon

Prince Philip of England

Lassie (the dog)

And some not yet famous visitors who were impressed and influenced by the fair were a couple of young local boys named Paul Allen and Bill Gates.

It Happened at the World's Fair Movie Trivia

What would a fair be without food?

Although there was the "Eye of the Needle" restaurant at the top of the Space Needle and other restaurants scattered around the fairgrounds, the highlight was the Food Circus set up inside the old armory building. The photo on this vintage postcard shows the concept that later became known as a food court. Fifty-two restaurants with cuisines from all over the world were contained under one roof and each family member could all eat from a different restaurant and meet at their table to watch the entertainment while they ate.

The old armory building where the food circus was located during the fair is now called the Seattle Center House. It still has a food court on the main floor and features the Seattle Children's Museum on the lower floor.

The Food Circus


The Last Day of the Fair - October 21, 1962

The fair was exciting and fun for everyone, but after its 6 month run it ended on October 21, 1962. The last day the fair had an attendance of 124,479 people. Thirteen thousand had tickets for the closing ceremonies held at Memorial Stadium. President John F. Kennedy was scheduled to appear, but expo organizers were notified on October 19th that the president was ill with a cold and would be unable to attend. As events unfolded in the next few days it became obvious the president was suffering from symptoms of a "cold" war and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

President John Kennedy signing the Cuba Quarantine Proclamation October 1962

The Future Remembered

The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World's Fair and Its Legacy - By Paula Becker and Alan Stein

To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the 1962 World's Fair, authors Paula Becker and Alan Stein put together this fantastic book all about the Seattle World's Fair. The entire era and all the people who made the fair possible are vividly portrayed in their coffee-table book, "The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World's Fair and Its Legacy."

The Seattle World's Fair Museum - The Century 21 Expo Museum


The Seattle World's Fair Museum

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Seattle World's Fair in 2012 there was a small museum inside the Center House. It was full of photos, memorabilia and displays from the fair including a console from one of the Monorail cars.

© 2011 Vicki Green

What did you think of your trip back to the 1962 Seattle World's Fair? - How well was the future predicted 50+ years ago at the Century 21 Expo?

anonymous on June 16, 2013:

I would like to know what were the admission ticket prices to go in

reserve123 on November 13, 2012:

Cool lens. Thanks for the history.

biminibahamas on May 15, 2012:

WOW, loved it and all the fun times we had at the fair!

Rob Hemphill from Ireland on April 29, 2012:

Wow! what a great lot of info on the Seattle World Fair, would love to visit one day.

KateHonebrink on April 28, 2012:

Super article! Loved all the details and trivia - wonderful job!

AJ from Australia on April 27, 2012:

What an exciting era full of promise and hope, which you have captured so well. I have been to Seattle a few times and love it. Blessings.

getmoreinfo on April 27, 2012:

This is lovely and I have learned so much about the seattle world fair, great photos too.

anonymous on April 27, 2012:

The 1962 World's Fair was advertised more widely than any before it from what I recall and do remember the excitement of it all and especially of the Space Needle, which was the talk of the world. I've never been to Seattle and have not attended a World's Fair, thanks for taking me there! Congratulations on being among the Best of Squidoo - Silly Celebrations in April for this labor of love!

jayceehaynes on April 27, 2012:

fun lens :)

sousababy on April 10, 2012:

So cool, I visited Seattle in the late 90's . . had lots of fun (food was great).

Lee Hansen from Vermont on April 10, 2012:

I remember the promotion and of course the Needle, but I never attended a single World's Fair.

jolou on April 09, 2012:

I live near you in Victoria BC and have visited Seattle quite a few times. I really like it. Have been to the top of the Space Needle too. You have featured the world fair here very nicely.

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