World's Fair Report, a weekly television series hosted by William
Berns, Vice-President of Communications and Public Relations
for the New York World's Fair Corporation, served to keep the
New York area informed of the progress of the building of the
Fair. World's Fair Report was presented by New York's
local public access station, WNYC, and ran between the
fall of 1963 and the Fair's opening the following April.
Mr. Berns' guest on the series' first broadcast
was Thomas J. Deegan, President of the Thomas J. Deegan Public
Relations Company and President of the Fair's Executive Committee.
The topic of discussion was the inception, background and early
history of the Fair. According to Mr. Deegan, it all began with
Thomas J. Deegan, President of
the Executive Committee of the New York World's Fair Corporation
At a meeting in City Hall in the winter
of 1959, the five men, Deegan among them, talked enthusiastically
about a new World's Fair and felt it was the right time for the
city to host another exposition. They presented their idea to
New York Mayor Robert Wagner who suggested that they contact
a number of community leaders to solicit ideas on a Fair. Wagner
loved the idea of a Fair because the year selected, 1964, coincided
with the 300th anniversary of the founding of New York City.
At Wagner's suggestion, Deegan spoke individually with thirty-five
business, professional and religious leaders of the city to see
what they thought of the idea of a New York World's Fair. All
were in favor. Deegan reported his findings to the Mayor who
suggested calling them all together in a group to discuss the
Deegan's group met in June, 1959 at the
restaurant "21" for a one-hour, one-cocktail (dutch
treat) meeting. Each attendee was given the opportunity to share
their thoughts with the group. All in attendance were greatly
in favor that New York should again host a World's Fair. The
Mayor's first New York World's Fair Committee was formed that
day with Deegan elected Chairman. On August 15, 1959, Mayor Wagner
publicly announced that a Committee had been formed to study
the feasibility of New York hosting a World's Fair in 1964.
The Committee's first order of business
was to establish the New York World's Fair Corporation as a public,
non-profit organization under the laws of the State of New York.
Fifty more members were added to the Board of Directors of the
Corporation bringing the total directors to eighty-five. Each
member was asked to contribute $1,000 of personal money as a
"gift" to the organization to provide working capital
for immediate expenses. There were no paid employees or office
expenses at this time. Board members were strictly volunteers
to the organization and all dealings were handled from personal
New York was not the only city interested
in hosting a World's Fair in 1964. Washington, D.C. was actively
pursuing plans for their own 1964 World's Fair and both Los Angeles
and Chicago had expressed interest in hosting a World's Fair
as well. A three-member Commission of prominent Americans was
appointed by President Eisenhower to study the feasibility of
a World's Fair in the United States in 1964 and to study each
interested city's plans. On October 22, 1959, the New York World's
Fair Corporation was requested to present themselves at the White
House to plead their case for New York's Fair before Eisenhower's
Commission. Los Angeles had put forth a half-hearted bid and
Chicago's bid was meager. It was felt that the two best cases
for a World's Fair in 1964 would be the bids presented by New
York and Washington, D.C.
The weather in Washington, D.C. on October
22nd was abysmal and the New York delegation arrived for their
11 a.m. presentation at 3 p.m. having circled Washington for
nearly three hours, finally being forced to land in Wilmington,
Delaware and taxi to the White House from there! Despite the
late arrival, the New York committee members felt that they gave
an excellent oral presentation that was both compact and comprehensive.
Among the presenters were Mayor Wagner; New York Governor Rockefeller;
Mr. Austin Tobin of the Port Authority; merchandising magnate
Bernard Gimble; former U.S. Treasury Secretary, John Hanes; Administrator
of the City of New York, Charles Preusse and New York City Parks
Commissioner, Robert Moses who had been an early enthusiastic
supporter and who had agreed to lease Flushing Meadow Park, the
proposed site of the Fair, to the organization for $1 per year.
One week later, on October 29, 1959, President
Eisenhower announced that New York would be designated as the
city to host the World's Fair in 1964. The World's Fair had it's
first big "score!" Now financing needed to be secured.
Some $64 million in promissory notes would
need to be issued to cover the construction and operation of
the Fair. The Corporation attempted to gain support of city bankers
and found that financial support would be determined by the make-up
of the Fair's management. At this time, the Fair still had no
paid employees and no one had actually been designated and hired
to run the show. Deegan, along with five men (Banker David Rockefeller;
Coca-Cola Board Chairman, William Robinson; New York City Commissioner
of Commerce, Richard Patterson; John Hanes and Charles Preusse),
set out to find a President.
"Many self-appointed candidates came
forward," said Deegan. "All lacked the qualifications.
We had a dearth of capable men to do the job. But, clearly, the
man who had the greatest ability to do it was standing in our
midst. I had the honor to ask Mr. Moses if he would relinquish
some of his many positions and accept the Presidency. The Committee
was unanimous in the choice of Robert Moses and Mr. Moses accepted.
Mr. Moses took on one of the most mammoth jobs of our time."
With Robert Moses as President of the New York World's Fair Corporation,
financing was secured.
In August, 1960, industrial leaders from
around America were gathered together at the Fair's first headquarters,
the New York City Building in Flushing Meadow Park, for a presentation
on what the Fair had to offer ... the cost and the potential
benefit of presenting America's free enterprise system to the
world. The New York World's Fair Corporation had four goals,
"bellwethers" as Mr. Deegan called them, which they
felt had to be achieved in order to have a successful World's
Fair. The governmental, industrial and international community
would be watching for the success of these four goals:
- Congressional appropriation of funds to
construct a Federal exhibit at the Fair.
- General Motors as an exhibitor to lead
the industrial community in participation.
- Participation by the Kremlin (USSR).
- Participation by the Vatican.
It took two sessions of Congress, but legislation
was enacted to appropriate $17 million for the Federal Pavilion
and Federal participation. General Motors' Futurama had
been the most popular attraction at the '39 World's Fair and,
as America's largest industry, participation by GM was vital.
General Motors became an early supporter and major exhibitor.
Deegan personally handled visits to the
Soviet Union and Vatican to gain their support for the Fair.
At the Kremlin, Communist Party Secretary Nikita Khrushchev told
Deegan, "I am for this but I am just one voice. There are
many other voices that must be heard." The Soviet Union
was the first nation to agree to participate and was in the Fair
for fourteen months before withdrawing their participation in
October, 1962. This was very disappointing to the Fair, considering
the Cold War and the Fair's theme of "Peace Through Understanding."
The Vatican participation, on the other
hand, was a success. Pope John XXIII personally received the
Fair's delegation and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Fair
saying, "If this is good for the brotherhood of man and
can bring the world one step closer to peace, we are for it."
The Vatican announced they were coming to the Fair and wanted
to do something for the American people. They would send Michelangelo's
Pieta so that those who could not travel to St. Peter's
to see the sculpture would be able to see it in America at the
From inception to operation in just eighteen
months; an amazing feat. No less amazing; the fact that it would
take the New York World's Fair Corporation a brief four years
to successfully complete, what Thomas J. Deegan called, "one
of the most mammoth jobs of our time."