The New York World’s Fair, which celebrated the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s presidential inauguration, was a momentous occasion for New Yorkers and for the world, attracting some 45 million visitors over its two seasons in 1939 and 1940. The Expo was also a remarkable event for fans of superheroes, as it staged the first ever appearance of Superman. Previously confined to comic books and radio shows, it was on 3 July 1940 that visitors could come to the Expo and for the very first time see the superhero in the flesh.
On this day, known as Superman Day, the cost of a children’s ticket to the Expo was reduced from 50 cents to 5 cents, encouraging visitors to attend. The event was the brainchild of publicist Allen ‘Duke’ Ducovny, with the aim of attracting more visitors to the Expo and boosting sales of the 100-page special edition of DC’s New York World’s Fair Comics, which was only on sale on the Expo site.
I’ve written before about how many Americans are unaware that expos (or “world’s fairs,” as we tend to call them here) still happen. Similarly, the millions of people who live in countries that have hosted expos in the last couple of decades are sometimes unaware of America’s contributions to the medium throughout history. Walt Disney’s story is emblematic about how 20th Century United States history and world’s fair history are intertwined.
I see it as part of my mission to keep world’s fairs and the United States from drifting apart. Fortunately, working at the Walt Disney Family Museum, I have the privilege of interacting regularly with other folks who are also passionate about the power of places.