Scope and arrangement
The records of the New York World's Fair 1939 and 1940 Incorporated present a comprehensive view of all aspects of the planning, design, execution, maintenance, and dismantling of the Fair. These records evidence both the functional organization, and the broad range of interactions with participating corporate and government representatives, investors, contractors, artists, planners, laborers, fairgoers and members of the public both in the United States and abroad. There are few events or transactions related to the realization of the Fair and its day-to-day operation not documented in some fashion in these records. These records also demonstrate the formidable marshalling of creative, financial, and promotional forces necessary to successfully launch this enterprise. Secondarily, these records give testament to the times: the political, economic, social and cultural milieu within which the Fair was conceived and mounted.
The collection covers matters concerning construction, maintenance and demolition of Fair facilities; planning and development; architecture and landscaping; displays and exhibits; government participation; publicity and public relations; amusements, entertainment and concessions; legal and financial affairs; the import and export of goods; labor relations; and public safety and welfare. In addition to correspondence and memoranda, the collection consists of reports, minutes, financial and legal records, architectural plans, design drawings, audio recordings, brochures, leaflets, press releases and other promotional materials, notably over 12,000 photographs of the Fair, its exhibits and visitors.
The records are divided into the two distinct groups maintained by the Fair Corporation: Central Files and Departmental Files. The Central Files constitute one third of the collection and broadly document the activities and functions of the over two-dozen organizational units within the corporation. Documents in these files are indexed at the item level by name and subject and can be retrieved by utilizing the Central Files index (see the Central Files Scope Note for information on the index, now available in searchable electronic form). Although staff was mandated by executive order to send all significant correspondence and memoranda to Central Files for reference or documentation purposes, departments did not always choose to comply, citing confidentiality or the necessity of keeping active records near at hand. Therefore, while a substantial portion of vital correspondence was maintained in Central Files, hundreds of feet of departmental records were never incorporated. These departmental records, which constitute the bulk of the collection, are arranged to reflect the organizational structure of the Fair at the close of the 1940 season. While duplication between Central Files and the departmental records does occur, more often, the two are complementary and together provide the most complete account of the organization's activities.
In addition to offering an exhaustive record of the Fair Corporation, the collection serves as a remarkable compendium of the times, offering entrée to almost every facet of American life, and supporting research on any number of subjects including: the birth of the consumer society and corporatism; the rise of the automobile culture; technology's transformation of the American home; the emergence of public relations as a profession and social force; the legacy of the New Deal; the influence of industrial design on everyday objects; urban and regional planning in 20th century America; the transformation of New York City instigated by Robert Moses from the 1930s forward; representations of race in popular culture; tensions between nationalism and internationalism in the United States; foreign participation and geopolitics; the history of burlesque and other popular entertainments; the evolution of museum didactics and display techniques; the introduction of foreign cuisines to the American public; labor relations and the rising sway of unions; the advent of mass travel and the tourism industry; and the history of other fairs and international expositions, most notably Chicago's Century of Progress, which served in many ways as a model for the New York fair.
The successful mounting of the Fair required the involvement of thousands of individuals both prominent and obscure -- from incorporators and planners to stenographers and stuntmen. Consequently, the records are an ideal source for biographers and genealogists. While the collection in no small measure reveals the aspirations of the political, cultural, business, and civic leaders that financed, planned and built the Fair, the extensive correspondence from members of the public poignantly captures the anxieties of a nation still gripped by the Depression and poised on the brink of war.
Abramovitz, Max. Architectural drawings and papers. Avery Drawings & Archives, Columbia University.
Century of Progress Records. Special Collections Department, University of Illinois at Chicago. Dreyfuss, Henry. Henry Dreyfuss Collection, 1927-1972. Cooper-Hewitt Museum Archives.
Ferriss, Hugh. Architectural Drawings and Papers Collection. Avery Drawings & Archives, Columbia University.
Harrison, Wallace K. Architectural drawings and papers. Avery Drawings & Archives, Columbia University.
Monaghan, Frank. Papers. Rare and Manuscript Collections. Cornell University.
Moses, Robert. Papers. Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.
Muschenheim, William. Architectural drawings and papers. Avery Drawings & Archives, Columbia University. New York World's Fair Negro Week. Records. Schomburg Center -- Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books, New York Public Library.
New York City 1939 World's Fair architectural drawings, [ca. 1935]. Museum of the City of New York. Museum of the City of New York.
New York City 1939 World's Fair collection, 1939-1940. Museum of the City of New York. New York World's Fair 1939/40 Collection. Queens Museum. [Note: This collection is available for research on a limited basis. Consult Queens Museum staff]
New York World's Fair 1964-1965 Corporation records. Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.
Temple of Religion Records. Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.
Whalen, Grover A. Papers. New York City Municipal Archives.
Wurts Brothers (New York, N.Y.). Museum of the City of New York. - Dept. of Paintings, Prints, and Photographs.
Department of Parks, 1850-1960. New York City Dept. of Records, Municipal Archives Collections. Includes correspondence of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses from 1940 through 1956.
The New York World's Fair 1939 and 1940 Incorporated records are arranged in ten series:
- 1082 boxes
The Central Files Department maintained the core administrative records of the New York World's Fair 1939 /1940 Corporation and served as a vital resource to the hundreds of executives and administrators responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Fair. With few exceptions, the over two-dozen organizational units were required to file significant correspondence and memoranda in Central Files for reference or documentation purposes. Only materials deemed to be of a confidential nature or constituting part of the working records of a department were withheld and maintained within departmental files. At the peak operating period, the eleven employees who staffed the Central Files unit received and managed thousands of documents a week.
Correspondence sent to Central Files was classified, indexed, filed by subject and then cross-referenced by name of individual and organization in an alphabetically-arranged Master Card Index. The card index both facilitated rapid retrieval and guided the clerical staff in the classification and indexing of the steady influx of new documents. The files were arranged by the Fair employees according to a hierarchically-structured, decimal-based classification system that at the highest level, divided into five major units under the headings of Administration, Construction, Maintenance, Participation, Public Relations. This original filing scheme -- which offers insights into the Fair's office management practices and serves as a model of mid-twentieth century recordkeeping systems -- has been preserved along with an electronic version of the card index (worldsfair.nypl.org) providing item-level access to well over one million documents.
There is some overlap of topics between the five sections, so carefully read all the notes to determine which records you may need to consult. The subject headings and associated alpha-numeric codes that appear in the scope notes serve as pointers to the location of the referenced material. For a fuller explanation of utilizing the filing system see: Conducting Research in the Central Files.
- 281 boxes 16 volumes
The Office of Secretary was charged with keeping of all records necessary for the ongoing operation of the Fair Corporation; filing and proper recording of all contracts; preparing and distributing of calendars, minutes and Executive Orders; arranging for and sending out of notifications for meetings; the soliciting, receiving and opening of all public bids; and the signing of the debenture subscriptions and certificates underwriting the construction and mounting of the Fair. The Corporate Secretary and his staff also participated in the preparation of budgets and, with the Vice President in Charge of Finance, supervised expenditures. Following the 1940 season, and through the final dissolution of the Corporation in 1944, this staff assumed responsibilities for the liquidation of property, the settlement of accounts, and the management of outstanding claims. While Charles C. Green and later E.W. Cobb served as Corporate Secretary, the day-to-day duties were chiefly entrusted to Thomas Marrah, Mary Louise Jorzick and, during the post-Fair years, Edward Umgelter. [See also: Administration and Maintenance sections of Central Files].
- 12 boxes 18 tubes
Under the supervision of Stephen Voorhees, the seven-member Board of Design was assembled in May 1936 to prepare the general plan for the Fair. Made up of building and landscape architects drawn from New York's leading firms, an industrial designer, and a New York City Park's Department engineer, the Board was responsible for the physical layout of the site and the realization of the thematic elements. A sub-unit of the Board, the Committee on Theme, was led by architect and progressive planner Robert Kohn and charged with actualizing the conceptual aspects of the Fair -- the interpretation and integration of the main theme with the built environment and the development of the Fair-sponsored focal exhibits. Members of the Board recommended and selected all architects to carry out the design of Fair Corporation structures including, administrative buildings, concession kiosks, the seven focal exhibits, and the Theme Center structures of Trylon and Perisphere. Building designs prepared by outside architects for concessionaires, exhibitors, and government participants had to conform to established standards of scale and color and meet with the approval of the Board in advance of construction. There were few matters related to the overall appearance of the Fair that did not come before this body: sculptures, murals, lighting, color, landscaping, décor and signage all passed before the Board for comment and consent.
Although some textual materials related to the design of uniforms can be found in this record group, the bulk of the abundant documentation of the Board of Design's activities can be found in the reports, memos and correspondence that were integrated into the Administration and Construction sections of Central Files. A set of Board of Design minutes is also available in the records of the Office of Secretary. (See: Office of Secretary: Administrative and Advisory Bodies, boxes 1097-8). The records arranged here chiefly constitute what remains of the Board of Design drawings and plans for the Fair. Correspondence between the Fair Corporation and the NYPL dating from the acquisition of the collection indicates that most of the architectural drawings were destroyed or dispersed. Although fragmentary in nature, the hundreds of design drawings and plot plans in these records capture the early musings of the designers as they established the layout and look of the Fair. Included are original drawings on butter paper, graphite and colored pencil on tracing paper, presentation drawings on board as well as photostatic copies.
Representative materials include quick sketches and development drawings of the Fairgrounds site drafted by Kohn and others on the Board of Design demonstrating efforts to devise a plan that would reconcile the thematic and aesthetic vision with the engineering realities of building on reclaimed marsh land (colored pencil on tracing paper). Various iterations of the final plan can also be found here. Also included are site plans of other Fairs -- Buffalo (1901), Brussels (1935), Chicago (1893 and 1933), St. Louis (1904), San Francisco (1915) and Paris (1937) -- utilized by the designers in the course of their research. Proposed plans for permanent improvement to Flushing Meadows Bay and drawings pertaining to the development of Flushing Meadow Park following the closure of the Fair address the long-term prospects for this site.
Among the drawings of buildings are studies of the focal exhibits and design drawings of individual Town of Tomorrow model homes. Presentation materials include a distemper painting of the Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer Garden entrance and bandstand; a lithograph of the Aviation building; and a water color of the Production and Distribution Building. Exhibit and display drawings include diagrams coordinating the elements for fireworks and fountain spectacles. Files on ground structures include numerous design and presentation drawings for the concessions and refreshment stands that dotted the Fairgrounds. Plot plans offer schematic layouts of the zones and sectors of the Fair while renting plans note plot numbers, rentable square footage of sectors and buildings, and anticipated circulation figures. Presentation diagrams and tables offer graphic representations of the thematic content of the Fair. Progress logs tracking the development of sculptures and murals from inception to completion are also available in these records. Transportation drawings contain sketches of entrance gates at the IRT/BMT station and platform (colored pencil on tracing paper). Notable is a drawing by Walter Dorwin Teague of a Pullman car emblazoned with a NYWF logo. Finally, design materials on uniforms contain reports and correspondence as well as swatches, photographs of uniformed employees, and design drawings including a water-color representation of a whimsical Trylon and Persiphere hat.
Additional presentation material related to the design of the grounds, buildings and exhibitions were donated at the closing of the Fair to Columbia University's Avery Architecture and Fine Arts Library and the Museum of the City of New York Archives and are available for study at these institutions.
- 92 boxes
In 1936, the Fair Corporation retained the firm of Lord Day & Lord as General Counsel to negotiate the lease of Flushing Meadow Park from the City of New York. The firm, represented by Herbert Brownell, Jr., thereafter managed all legal matters for the Fair. Routine activities included preparing the debenture issue, pursuing local and federal legislation, drafting and executing construction and concessions contracts, and protecting against misuse of the Fair's copyrighted name and insignia. Counsel also litigated claims by and against the Fair, negotiated labor disputes, advised department heads on policies and procedures, researched tax and import matters, reviewed demolition specifications and financial papers and, in 1942, executed the dissolution of the Fair Corporation itself. Staff attorneys J. T. Noonan, James S. Hemingway and C.W. Merritt assisted Brownell. The records in this group include correspondence, leases, depositions, opinions, contracts and case records and reflect the breadth of matters handled by the department.
- 7 boxes
Howard Adams Flanigan, a decorated U.S. Naval officer, retired his commission to join the Fair Corporation in the capacity of Administrative Assistant to President Grover Whalen in May 1936. Known as Commander by the over 8,000 employees who made up the staff during the peak operating period, Flanigan acted on behalf of the president in organizational matters and was charged with the coordination of the activities of all departments. Following the resignation of General Manager W. Earle Andrews, who was responsible for planning, site development, and general oversight of the Operating Division, Flanigan assumed the additional duties of this position. The Office of Executive Vice President was established with Flanigan at its helm during an organizational restructuring at the end of the 1939 season. At the closing of the Fair, Flanigan managed its operational and physical dismantling, overseeing the demolition of buildings at Flushing Meadow, the sale and salvage of Fair property, and negotiations with city, state and federal authorities. In June 1941, Flanigan was recalled by the Navy to active service and his duties were absorbed by the remaining staff in the Office of Secretary.
The modest number of files under this heading belies Flanigan's far-ranging activities as Executive Vice President. The bulk of his extensive records may be found dispersed throughout Central Files and the many departments and units that constitute the Operating Division including Concessions, Construction, Exhibits and Entertainment, Public Services and Labor Relations. The documents here relate primarily to Flanigan's post-Fair activities, particularly with regard to demolition plans and negotiations with the New York City Parks Department. Many of these files were generated in response to Parks Commissioner Robert Moses' letter of September 27, 1940, in which he delineated the Fair Corporation's obligations to the City. Materials include an illustrated Parks' Department booklet requesting funds for the development of Flushing Meadow Park; Flanigan's confidential bulletins to the Fair's Executive Committee related to the progress of demolition, sales and salvage, personnel reductions, operating finances, and issues regarding concessionaires with claims against or in debt to the Fair. Finally, files reflecting Flanigan's activity during the Fair period include a Federal Works Agency report on plans for the 1940 Contemporary Arts building, and documentation regarding the Chicago office opened to promote the Fair in the Midwest.
- 65 boxes
This division secured commitments from foreign and domestic governments and coordinated all activities with foreign officials and federal and civic leaders related to bringing the construction and operation of governmental exhibits and pavilions to fruition. Fair President Grover Whalen officially directed the activities of this division, serving as the Corporation's front man and indefatigable emissary. Traveling extensively to visit with presidents, prime ministers, governors and other dignitaries, Whalen was present at virtually all formal contract signings, and countless promotional and ceremonial events. It was, however, Julius C. Holmes who effectively led the division, overseeing the day-to-day management and operation of the Foreign, State and Ceremonial Departments. Hired initially with the title of Administrative Assistant, Holmes became Division Director and Vice President late in 1939 as preparations for the 1940 season were underway.
Related material on Government Participation can be found in the following sections of the Central Files records:
I.D. Participation - P0. Government I.A. Administration - A1.16 Government Participation Division
- 381 boxes 13 volumes
The activities of this division came under the direction of the Office of Executive Vice President. See V. Office of the Executive Vice President for furtheexplanation.
- 303.5 boxes
The Promotion and Development Division was responsible for all aspects of publicity for the Fair Corporation. Dating from the bond sales campaign of 1936, the records document the heady ballyhoo of the pre-Fair period through the scramble to recoup losses after the financial failure of the 1939 season. From early on, the division's management and operational structures were in a state of nearly continual flux, each change marking a new attempt to establish greater oversight, reduce redundancy and commit to more vigorous promotional strategies. Division directors included Charles C. Green, Perley S. Boone (also director of Press), C.E. O'Neil and Claude Collins (also director of Motion Pictures). (See the Division Organization and Reports file [box 1880, folders 5-7] for details on the division's internal dynamics.) Grouped here under six headings based upon department of origin or area of activity, the records evidence the division's varied approaches to raising funds, engaging government and corporate participation, and attracting the public to the Fair.
- 61 boxes 13 volumes
The Treasury Division was responsible for all financial matters related to the Fair Corporation including funding of the corporation through issuance of bonds (debentures); preparation of budgets and forecasts; protection of corporate assets against loss and liability through the development and enforcement of insurance policies and plans; management of accounts and tracking of revenue and expenses; and keeping of records and books of account for the preparation of statements and audited reports. Bayard F. Pope was appointed Treasurer of the corporation in May 1936 and served as a member of the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors and the Finance Committee. While the Finance Committee had general oversight authority over corporate finances, it was the Treasurer who was responsible for implementing the decisions of the Committee through the many programs and activities of the Treasury Division. In the discharge of these duties, Pope was assisted by the Financial Director and Vice President in Charge of Finance G. Vincent Pach, who supervised the daily management of the division.
Because the Treasury Division transactions touched on all aspects of the Fair Corporation, these records provide a useful vantage from which to mark the trajectory of the corporation, from its ambitious and optimistic beginnings through its anxious and fiscally unsteady final season.
- 10 sound records
These recordings include promotional spots, radio broadcasts, and music associated with the Fair, notably a live performance of the official New York World's Fair song, George Gershwin's "Dawn of a New Day."