Why Unisphere?

Pamphlet commemorating "first steel" ceremonies for Unisphere
Ceremonies Booklet Cover

At ceremonies on March 6, 1963 commemorating the placement of the first steel support of the Unisphere pedestal, Robert Moses, Fair Corporation President spoke these remarks:

"We looked high and low for a challenging symbol for the New York World's Fair of 1964 and 1965. It had to be of the space age; it had to reflect the interdependence of man on the planet Earth, and it had to emphasize man's achievements and aspirations. it had to be the cynosure of all visitors, dominating Flushing Meadow, and built to remain as a permanent feature of the park, reminding succeeding generations of a pageant of surpassing interest and significance.

And so we discarded startling abstractions and decided on a transparent, or shall I say diaphanous globe with orbits, with the continents outlined, and ingenious lighting and other effects in place of revolving machinery.

This symbol floating over the Meadow, is going around the world. it signifies the New York Fair everywhere. Its effect is instantaneous. It speaks volumes in a single picture."

The first steel section for Unisphere's pedestal weighing twenty tons, is lowered into place on March 6, 1963. Fabrication of sections for the world's largest representation of the Earth took place in Harrisburg, PA, at U.S. Steel's American Bridge Division, and from there was shipped by rail and truck to Flushing Meadow Park.

Lowering the first support 

One of Moses' first tasks upon becoming President of the Fair in 1960 was to suggest some sort of symbol to represent the Fair. Having been intimately involved with the 1939/1940 Fair Moses knew the value of a highly recognizable symbol. The Trillion and Perisphere of the earlier Fair had become popular icons in their day.

In August, 1960, he outlined these ideas:

"It gets down to these alternatives.

    1. Pure abstraction. Absolutely nothing doing. Toss it out.
    2. Understandable abstraction symbolizing theme, with some significance or meaning for the average person.
    3. U.N. buildings. Kind of corny. Unoriginal. U.N. probably won't like it. Neither will some of our people, but it's not impossible.
    4. Something from electronic or invention world.
    5. Throgs Neck or Narrows suspension bridge.
    6. Onward and upward symbol -- Heaven knows what.
    7. Something else."

He turned to the design firm of Walter Dorwin Teague to come up with some ideas. Their suggestion was for a 170-foot high steel and aluminum spiral called "Journey to the Stars." At one point in its design, a ride took people to the top of the spiral. Helium filled star-shaped balloons floated about the top of the structure. Moses' thoughts?

"At the risk of being put down as a barbarian, I think its a cross between a part of a make and break engine or a bedspring..."

"Journey to the Stars" as envisioned by the design team at Walter Dorwin Teague Associates.

Journey to the Stars 

"The Galaxon" -- another proposed Theme Symbol of the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair.

The Galaxon 

Source: "Remembering the Future," "Something for Everyone: Robert Moses and the Fair" by Marc H. Miller, published to accompany the 1989 Queens Museum exhibition "Remembering the Future: The New York World's Fair from 1939 to 1964."

Another rejected proposal called for a "star viewing platform" to be presented by Portland Cement called "The Galaxon." This 160-foot high, 340-foot diameter saucer shaped structure would have had a difficult time being useful as the lights from the Fair, the world's largest city and the World's Largest Searchlight just down the lane might have made star viewing a bit difficult.

In the end it was an old associate from Robert Moses' 1939/1940 World's Fair days, Gilmore Clark, that originated the idea of Unisphere. It was certainly "understandable by the average man" and truly represented man's new role in the Space Age. It was a readily recognizable icon for its time.

Logo, c. 1961-1962

"We were deluged with theme symbols -- mostly abstract, aspirational, spiral, uplifting, flashing, or burning with a hard and gemlike flame, whose resemblance to anything living or dead was purely coincidental. I can comprehend the magnificent symbolism of a four-footed musical theme like that of Beethoven's Fifth ... but the symbolism proposed by the avant-garde at Flushing Meadow, even if it be ambrosia to the intelligentsia, was surely caviar to the general.

Our U.S. Steel Armillary Sphere, the Unisphere, was derided by sour critics. they even said our wonderful fountains and magnificent night lighting were corny and we were accused of being crude, dull, defeated, uncouth Boeotians, lewd fellows of the baser sort."

Robert Moses
"The Saga of Flushing Meadow"
April 11, 1966

Photos by Joe A. Watson, New Haven, Conn.


Source: Architectural Record, July 1961




The Galaxon, a concrete "space park" designed by Paul Rudolph, head of the Department of Architecture at Yale University, has been announced by the Portland Cement Association as "a proposed project" for the 1964 New York World's Fair. Its cost is estimated at $4 million.
Commissioned by the P.C.A. as "a dramatic and imaginative design in concrete," the Galaxon consists of a giant, saucer-shaped platform tilted at an 18 deg angle to the earth and held high above it by two curved walls rising from a circular lagoon. The gleaming 300 ft diameter disc of reinforced concrete would hover in the air like some huge space ship.
Visitors would be lifted to the center of the "saucer" by escalators and elevators inside the curved supporting walls. From the central ring they would walk outward over curved ramps to a constantly moving sidewalk on the disc's outside perimeter. The sidewalk would rise and fall from the 160 ft hight apex of the inclined disc, to a low point approximately 70 ft above the ground.
A stage is projected from one of its two supporting walls and a restaurant, planetary viewing station and other educational or recreational features could be located at points along its top surface to make it an entertainment center.
The Galaxon was among several designs displayed at an exhibition in New York of the use of concrete in so-called "visionary" architecture.

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