Paul Gillespie’s 1939 New York World’s Fair Collection

Just in time for the 72nd anniversary of New York’s 1939 World’s Fair — which opened on April 30th, 1939 — the New-York Historical Society has received an extensive collection of photographs and other memorabilia documenting this momentous event.

President Roosevelt’s official dedication at the Fair’s opening ceremonies.

Although Paul Gillespie was only 12 years old in 1939, and almost certainly did not attend the fair himself, he apparently developed a lifelong fascination with the “World of Tomorrow.” A high-school teacher who lived in the same rent-controlled apartment on the upper west side for almost 50 years, Mr. Gillespie accumulated an impressive assortment of photographs, scrapbooks, pamphlets, guidebooks, menus and other fair-related ephemera. His bequest of this collection to N-YHS will complement and enhance the Society’s already considerable holdings of material relating to the fair.

Out of town attendees enjoy some watermelon

New York’s 1939 World Fair was ostensibly held to commemorate the 150th anniversary of another landmark opening that took place on April 30th — George Washington’s inauguration as the first President of the United States on April 30th, 1789.

Statue of George Washington by sculptor James Earle Fraser

Even a cursory glance through the piles of photographs and ephemera in Paul Gillespie’s collection, however, confirms author Stanley Appelbaum’s assessment that this was merely “a patriotic pretext” for the fair. The fair’s real focus was on the future, not the past.

The Westinghouse Exhibit, featuring Elektro the Robot

We will be processing this collection over the summer (with the invaluable assistance of our interns) so by the time N-YHS reopens in the fall, it should be fully accessible to researchers. Fair enthusiasts who can’t wait that long may want to visit Future Perfect: Re-Constructing the 1939 World’s Fair, on exhibit at the Queens Museum of Art (in the only building left standing from the 1939 World’s Fair) until August 14, 2011.



  1. justin otis says

    dear sirs,
    my step-father mr. frank r. carrier,worked on the trylon and perisphere in 1938.he worked for the american bridge company a subsidary of us steel in those days.he was a riviter.i have hanging on my wall an award of merit presented to him by mayor laguardia 1n 1938.the award says:
    award of merit
    presented to
    F. carrier
    in regognition for the excellent
    and meritorious services performed
    by him during the erection of the
    structual steel for the
    president president
    new york worlds fair american bridge co. 1939,inc.

    august 12,1938 i have it hanging on my wall since my step-father died in 1938.im 83 years old . my children would not know what to do with it. does any one want it? Could it be displayed in the museum .it is signed by the two gentlemen.
    thank you. justin otis
    82 derby avenue
    greenlawn,n.y. 11740

    new york worlds fair 1939,inc.

  2. Donna Duerre Woodington says

    How sad that your children don’t want such an important piece of your family. My poor children are interested in the past, so I’ve saved things that are not so significant but are important to me. I was 7 or 8 when we lived in Garden Bay Manor, Queens, N.Y. and we went to the Worlds Fair several times and my Grandmother visiting from MN went all alone. How very brave of her. I will be 80 in Oct. and I remember quite a few things about the Fair–fond memories.
    Sorry I can’t be of help to you. It seems as tho’ the Museum would be interested in it.

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