Five Men

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 five men.

Thomas J. Deegan, President of the Executive Committee of the New York World's Fair Corporation
Thomas J. Deegan

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 Fair.

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 business offices.

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.

Fair Architectural Rendering Fair Architectural Rendering

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 Fair.

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."

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