By organising World Expo 1962 – which opened to the public 60 years ago this month – Seattle, then a small, globally obscure port city in the far northwest corner of the continental United States, sought to put itself on the map as an ambitious, tech-oriented city with its eye on the future. It wanted to brand itself as a “launch pad” for the Space Age and provide hope in the Cold War era. The Century 21 Exposition was architecturally ambitious, seeking to create a permanent landmark that would, like the Eiffel Tower, create an instantly recognisable symbol. The result was the Space Needle, a futuristic 184-metre-tall observation tower. The goal was to showcase the scenic beauty of the region, symbolise and dramatise Space Age architecture with its “flying saucer” motif, and prove commercially viable with the first free-standing revolving restaurant in the world.
The iconic symbol of the future now stands in solidarity with our isolation.
We’re 20 years into Century 21 — the theme of the Expo 1962 Seattle – and while some wild ideas were presented at that forward-thinking event, we never imagined the future would look quite like this.
In 2020, voice recognition technology can be used by anyone with a smartphone. Back in the 1960s, the idea of a human operating a machine by using vocal commands seemed like science fiction. Visitors to World Expo 1962 Seattle – the Space Age Expo - were therefore amazed by IBM’s Shoebox – an early computer that responded to voice controls.
Taking the Y position in the list of Expo Architects is Seattle-born Minoru Yamasaki, who made his breakthrough as an architect by designing the US Science Pavilion for World Expo 1962 in his home city.
Time capsules, those repositories of artifacts concealed for the future, have a long association with Expos. A project in Seattle this year is inviting people to continue a capsule tradition at the Space Needle on the site of World Expo 1962 - Seattle’s Century 21 Exposition.
Seattle’s World Expo 1962 is known for celebrating the Space Age and for putting Seattle on the map, notably with the construction of the Space Needle. More than this, the Century 21 Exposition was also a venue for showcasing innovations and offering visitors a glimpse of what the future had in store.
One of these innovations was the first ever cordless telephone, specially created so as to allow calls to be made from the Space Needle’s revolving restaurant without the complication of cables. The futuristic cordless phones were a hit with the public, but would not become commonplace for another several years.
Renovations and improvements to Seattle Center, the legacy site of Expo 1962 - the Century 21 Exposition in Seattle-, continue with some ups and downs.
The Space Needle has been undergoing a USD 100 million upgrade and renovation, including the installation of the world’s only rotating glass floor called The Loupe. A television documentary on the renovation project called “The Space Needle: Remaking an Icon” by Seattle station KING-TV contains exclusive film footage of the project—including showing how the Needle has been able to remain open despite construction 152 metres in the air. The documentary recently received a local Emmy Award nomination. It is well worth watching.
Fifty-six years on, “Paul’s Paraboloid”—otherwise known as KeyArena and formerly known as the Coliseum—is going to be reborn as a shelter for Seattle’s own, brand-new National Hockey League hockey franchise. On 4 December, the NHL announced the approval of an expansion franchise in Seattle for the 2021-22 season, citing the city’s thriving market and the promise of a new “spectacularly re-designed” state-of-the-art facility. The total cost of the expansion, including the expansion fee for the hockey team and cost of the renovations, at $1.4 billion.
The arena’s roof, said to be shaped like a native Salish woven hat, was designed by Northwest modern architect Paul Thiry to top a three-acre facility for the Seattle World’s Fair of 1962. Originally it housed Washington state’s exhibits featuring a new-fangled machine called a UNIVAC computer and such exotic amenities as the Bubbleator—a plastic elevator that “took” visitors into an exhibit of the World of Tomorrow showcasing both hopeful and scary possible futures in the 21st century.
Seattle’s iconic Space Needle – built as the centrepiece of World Expo 1962 – recently unveiled a dramatic $100 million “spacelift”, notably featuring a revamped observation deck and the world’s first revolving glass floor. On this occasion, the BIE interviewed Knute Berger, consulting historian at the Space Needle and Seattle-based author, journalist and commentator.
On April 21, 1962 the Century 21 Exposition opened its gates in Seattle. The six-month Expo attracted some 10 million visitors and left an indelible vision of what the future would be like for a generation coming of age in the Space Age.
The Expo was developed during the early efforts to get humans into space. It featured the first pavilion ever by NASA, the United States’ space agency. It was funded in part by federal spending spurred by the Soviet’s launch of the satellite Sputnik. And it was built during the first successful manned space flights. John Glenn’s Friendship 7 space capsule, in which the astronaut orbited the earth, was exhibited at the Expo, which was also visited by astronauts and cosmonauts.
Fifty-five years ago today, on 21 October 1962, the Seattle World’s Fair, also known as the Century 21 Exposition or Expo 1962, closed its six-month run. It had been an unqualified success with some 10 million visitors. It made a small profit, raised awareness of Seattle’s emergence as a modern tech city and provided the city with a recognisable international symbol in the Space Needle.
Striking the set on the first Space Age Expo was not the end of the story. The fair came to be because in the mid-1950s city voters had approved funding for a “civic center,” and fair boosters used that funding to leverage additional public and private money for an Expo that would result in a permanent cultural hub.
Extreme weather conditions and rising global temperatures are leading researchers to reconsider unconventional solutions such as Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP), as envisioned by scientists since the 1960s. This would be the perfect solution to climate change because solar power captured in outer space would not be vulnerable to poor weather, have zero greenhouse gas emissions and be unaffected by day and night cycles, unlike 23% of current incoming solar energy.
This untapped potential for Space-Based Solar Power was revealed when Telstar 1 (the world’s first active communication satellite) was used to beam scenes from Expo 1962 Seattle and transmit the first intercontinental television broadcast. The sphere satellite was powered by 3,600 solar cells and weighed over 77 kilos. It was a joint project by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and the British and French governments, which broadcasted a panoramic view of the striking Space Needle and other interesting sights and sounds from the Expo.
On April 21, 1962 - 55 years ago - Seattle’s Century 21 Exposition, also called the Seattle World’s Fair, opened its gates. My first memory of the fair dates from late 1961 when my Cub Scout group went to the top of a downtown office building. From there we could see the Space Needle rising—its iconic saucer top was just taking shape. We boys—I was eight years old at the time—were thrilled.
The theme of Century 21 was exactly one to inspire us: “Man in the Space Age.” Our small city in the far Northwest of America was becoming ground zero for the New Frontier. Science fiction was becoming reality.
If the Century 21 Exposition, which took place in Seattle in 1962, was mainly aimed at promoting American scientific research and its leadership in spatial exploration, it was also the place for the shooting of a musical produced by Metro Goldwyn Mayer headlined by the famous actor and singer Elvis Presley. The plot of "It happened at the World's Fair" produced by Norman Taurog, takes place on the Seattle World Fair's site in a scenery which is both futuristic and very representative of the American 60's society. We follow the adventures of two friends, Danny and Mike, who decide to go to the World's Fair to find a job because of their debts.
The film crew arrived in Seattle on 5th September 1962, when the Expo had already been in full swing for five months. This date was not chosen randomly because it was precisely the start of the school year. The director wanted to avoid as much as possible scenes of massive hysteria caused by teenage fans of the "King". Unfortunately for him, young people from around tried by all means to come closer to their idol. Actually, there are numerous stories from fans: series of fainting, snatches of conversation with Elvis, or, for Sue Waters, an 18 year old lucky girl, four dates with the King.