Wisconsin at the Fair

NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR -- WISCONSIN PAVILION. This strikingly original design by architect John Steinman was created using only standard Pruden metal building components. Almost 20,000 sq. ft. of space are incorporated in the Rotunda and two adjoining exhibit buildings. Alternate half-frames were placed in concave and convex positions to form the folded plate roof effect while the exterior skin was covered with Pruden Panel Rib. Construction time from arrival of materials on site to completed building was less than 90 days!

Source: PRUDEN PRODUCTS CO., Evansville, Wisconsin, advertising copy

Wisconsin Pavilion at the Fair

The New York World's Fair, being planned for 1964 and 1965, seemed a perfect showcase for a state's scenic attractions and business opportunities and Wisconsin took an early interest in the event. A state World's Fair Commission had been given one of the choicest spots in the State and Federal Area of the Fair. But by late 1963, with cost estimates for the pavilion and its operation exceeding a million dollars and with neither tax nor private funds available for its construction and operation, the pavilion seemed an impossibility.

Private sponsorship ensures state's participation

The story of the Wisconsin Pavilion might have ended right there in 1963 if it hadn't been for the efforts of Clark Prudhon, president of Pruden Steel Buildings in Evansville, Wisconsin. When Prudhon learned the state was about to drop plans for an exhibit at the New York Fair he was disappointed that the opportunity to exhibit Wisconsin's great resources would be lost.

So he arranged with John Steinman, an architect from Monticello, Wisconsin, to design a low cost structure able to compete in style and unity with surrounding pavilions at the Fair. The building would be built with materials and frames provided by Pruden Steel Buildings. Given a suitable pavilion at a reasonable cost Prudhon was convinced that other manufacturers in the state would be willing to contribute to the exhibit. He presented his ideas to the Wisconsin World's Fair Commission and they were certainly interested!

Source: Presented Courtesy John Pender Collection

Artist's Rendering

Just as Prudhon had predicted, private enterprise did take an interest in the project. Charles Sanders, a Wisconsin businessman who had been involved with the Seattle World's Fair in 1962 learned of Prudhon's plan and entered the picture representing major private financing. Sanders and Associates would provide financing to build the Pavilion with the privilege of selling commercial display space to exhibitors. They would reserve the Pavilion's entry building (called the Rotunda) for the state's own display and give the state veto power over any commercial exhibits in the pavilion. Additionally, the Rotunda building would become the property of the state of Wisconsin at the close of the Fair.

By now there was so little time left before the Fair's official opening in April of 1964 that the World's Fair administration nearly denied the Wisconsin World's Fair Commission permission to build. However, with construction starting in early 1964, the Wisconsin Pavilion was finally built at the last minute on one of the prime spots of the Fair.

The pavilion stood just to the right of the New York City building at the foot of the bridge crossing the Grand Central Parkway to the Transportation Area of the Fair and General Motors' Futurama. It was situated directly across from the New York State Pavilion's observation towers and the New Jersey Pavilion and "just down the road" from the Fair's symbol Unisphere. This prime real estate proved valuable to the pavilion's popularity.

Rotunda is pavilion's main feature

The pavilion constructed on the Flushing Meadow grounds actually consisted of two structures. The Rotunda served as an entry into a surrounding U-shaped exhibit hall housing commercial exhibits and restaurants. The Rotunda building was 48 feet in diameter with 12 sides. Six star-shaped canopies supported by gold "light pylons" jutted out from a roof structure rising to a 60 foot peak. The top of the Rotunda contained a unique complex of 120 panes of blue and gold stained glass (the official colors of Wisconsin). Extending from the roof peak was a 50 foot pole on which were fixed metal letters spelling out WISCONSIN. Indian inscriptions of mosaic tile were applied to the base. The surrounding structure complimented the Rotunda building.

Because of the Prudhon/Sanders idea no tax dollars were spent for the construction of the pavilion. However, the state legislature did appropriate monies for the operation of the pavilion and for a state exhibit within the Rotunda building. The pavilion eventually cost the state taxpayers 1.5 cents per visitor or approximately $199,000.

Exhibits highlight Wisconsin's scenic wonders

During the 1964 run of the Fair the displays in the Rotunda building highlighted Wisconsin's history, universities, highways, conservation, natural resource development, aeronautic industry and agricultural and dairy industries. The U-shaped exhibit hall displayed "The World's Largest Cheese," commercial exhibits, a trout pond, a cheese booth and Tad's Steakhouse. Tad's proved to be one of the most popular restaurants at the Fair serving over 15,000 Wisconsin beefsteak dinners daily.

For the 1965 season the interior exhibits of the Rotunda were changed to a motion display of Wisconsin's agricultural, industrial and recreational industries. The steak house was enlarged and a new, wider entrance was made to "The World's Largest Cheese."

During the two year run of the Fair, thousands of folders were distributed about Wisconsin. Pavilion visitors asked most about Wisconsin's universities and colleges, the resort and recreational facilities, what Wisconsin towns and cities were like, the jobs and industry, Wisconsin's dairy industry and "The World's Largest Cheese" (in that order). Approximately 500,000 visitors asked for and received state literature or maps.

Matchbook cover from Wisconsin Pavilion restaurant

A souvenir of the RED GARTER Banjo Beer Parlor at the Wiconsin Pavilion




Location proves fortunate

No other state had spent less than $500,000 on their pavilion. When the lights were dimmed on New York's "Billion Dollar Dream Fair" and the last person had filed past "The World's Largest Cheese," 13 million people had visited the Wisconsin Pavilion (according to the New York Times of October 19, 1965). This placed Wisconsin third among all state entries in attendance and eighth among all exhibits at the Fair in popularity! Not bad for the little pavilion that almost didn't make it to the Fair.

Wisconsin at the World's Fair


  1. No taxpayers' money used for construction.
  2. The most popular restaurant at the Fair, serving up to 15,000 Wisconsin beef steak dinners daily.
  3. Operation and maintenance cost of $50,000 appropriated by the Legislature in 1965 (217-S; Senate - Ayes 20, No's 10; 2 paired; Assembly - Ayes 80, No's 16)

Cost Each Taxpayer 1 1/2c per visitor.

When the World's Fair Participation Corporation was dissolved on December 20, 1965

$7,041.42 of the above amount was returned to the state.


  1. Rotunda building containing displays on Wisconsin's University, industries, highways, conservation, resource development, aeronautic, agricultural and dairy products, historical exhibits.
  2. In 1964, in addition to Tad's Steak House in a separate building of the Pavilion, there were among other exhibits
    • The World's Biggest Cheese
    • Industry exhibits
    • Trout Pool
    • Cheese Booth
  3. In 1965, the center interior exhibits of the rotunda information building were changed to a very attractive motion display of Wisconsin's agricultural, industrial and recreation industries.
    • The Steak House was enlarged, and a new wide additional entrance was made to the World's Biggest Cheese Display.
    • A World's Fair manager was hired for the Wisconsin exhibit, and together with attendants trained in handling inquiries, thousands of folders were distributed containing information on the State of Wisconsin and its industries.


  1. Our Universities and Colleges.
  2. Our resort and recreational facilities.
  3. What our towns and cities are like
  4. Jobs and industry
  5. Our dairy industry, and the World's Biggest Cheese

Approximately 500,000 persons asked for and received state literature, information or maps


Many Easterners are looking for a place "to get away from it all" that is easy to reach by auto. The network of Interstate Highways permits driving to Wisconsin from New York - and many other portions of the East Coast - without even a stoplight. To these people we are "The West," and our recreational appeal has reached this vast hitherto untapped market via the Fair. Other Easterners will send their children to our colleges and universities, make further inquiries regarding our job and industrial opportunities, and be on the lookout for Wisconsin products when shopping.


According to the New York Times, 10/19/65

13,000,000 people

visited the Wisconsin Pavilion during the two seasons of the Fair. This pus us in 8th place among all exhibits and 3rd among state pavilions.


New York State. . . . . . . . . . . .11 1/2 million dollars
Florida . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 1/2 million dollars
Hawaii . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 1/2 million dollars
New England States . . . . . . . . . . . .5 million dollars

Among the states participating were Texas, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Montana, Minnesota and Illinois

No other state participating spent less than 500,000 dollars except Wisconsin.


We did not include enough dairy products. Our image elsewhere is a cornucopia of butter, milk, cream, cheese and ice cream. People are interested in good food, and we should take this into account and emphasize our abundance in any future displays of this nature.

Wisconsin was well represented at the Fair, considering our investment. The directors believe complete credit is due to the intelligent non-partisan interest of those in industry and government who gave support to this endeavor. We made the most populous segment of the nation aware of why "we like it here." On the basis of cost per visitor, we were the most successful entry. This cost was far below that for a comparable amount of newspaper or magazine advertising, and justifies the wisdom of the Legislature in participation in this state-wide promotion.

Source: Post-Fair Fact Sheet

Source: Original Stationery from the Wisconsin Pavilion



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