Eighty years ago today, some seven months before the opening of Expo 1939 New York, a time capsule was buried in the middle of the Expo site. The instructions were clear: it was not to be dug up until the year 6939 – some 5,000 years later.
The bold time capsule project was an initiative of Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, with the aim of presenting a snapshot of the era while paying tribute to the Expo’s theme “The World of Tomorrow”. The electrical company aimed to immortalise life in the 1930s, based on the latest technologies and inventions of the era. By doing so, the highly publicised event was also familiarising people with the ‘modernity’ in which they lived.
Organised under the theme “World of Tomorrow”, Expo 1939 in New York celebrated the “Dawn of a New Day”, which was partly made possible by the electrification of the country. Increased access to safe and reliable energy in the first part of the 20th century lead to a wave of optimism and hope for a future shaped by technological prowess and societal changes.
In 1900, only around 2% of homes in the United States were electrified, but by 1939, this proportion had increased dramatically to approximately 70%.
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.