Century 21 Exposition

1962 Seattle
Century 21 Exposition logo1.png
Century 21 Exposition logo
BIE-classUniversal exposition
CategorySecond category General Exposition
NameCentury 21 Exposition
MottoLiving in the Space Age
BuildingSpace Needle
Area74 acres (30 hectares)
Invention(s)Bubbleator, Friendship 7
Organized byEdward E. Carlson
CountryUnited States
VenueBroad Street
Coordinates47°37′17″N 122°21′03″W / 47°37′17″N 122°21′03″W / 47.62139; -122.35083
OpeningApril 21, 1962
ClosureOctober 21, 1962
Universal expositions
PreviousExpo 58 in Brussels
NextExpo 67 in Montreal

The Century 21 Exposition (also known as the Seattle World's Fair) was a world's fair held April 21, 1962, to October 21, 1962, in Seattle, Washington.[1][2] Nearly 10 million people attended the fair.[3] Unlike some other world's fairs of its era, Century 21 made a profit.[3]

As planned, the exposition left behind a fairground and numerous public buildings and public works; some credit it with revitalizing Seattle's economic and cultural life (see History of Seattle since 1940).[4] The fair saw the construction of the Space Needle and Alweg monorail, as well as several sports venues (Washington State Coliseum, now KeyArena) and performing arts buildings (the Playhouse, now the Cornish Playhouse), most of which have since been replaced or heavily remodeled.

Aerial photograph of the Space Needle in 2003 decorated for Memorial Day

The site, slightly expanded since the fair, is now called Seattle Center; the United States Science Pavilion is now the Pacific Science Center. Another notable Seattle Center building, the Museum of Pop Culture (earlier called EMP Museum), was built nearly 40 years later and designed to fit in with the fairground atmosphere.

Cold War and Space Race context

The fair was originally conceived in 1955 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1909 Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition, but it soon became clear that that date was too ambitious. With the Space Race underway and Boeing having "put Seattle on the map"[5] as "an aerospace city",[6] a major theme of the fair was to show that "the United States was not really 'behind' the Soviet Union in the realms of science and space". As a result, the themes of space, science, and the future completely trumped the earlier conception of a "Festival of the [American] West".[5]

In June 1960, the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) certified Century 21 as a world's fair.[7] Project manager Ewen Dingwall went to Moscow to request Soviet participation, but was turned down. Neither the People's Republic of China, Vietnam nor North Korea were invited.[7]

As it happened, the Cold War had an additional effect on the fair. President John F. Kennedy was supposed to attend the closing ceremony of the fair on October 21, 1962. He bowed out, pleading a "heavy cold"; it later became public that he was dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis.[8]

The fair's vision of the future displayed a technologically based optimism that did not anticipate any dramatic social change, one rooted in the 1950s rather than in the cultural tides that would emerge in the 1960s. Affluence, automation, consumerism, and American power would grow; social equity would simply take care of itself on a rising tide of abundance; the human race would master nature through technology rather than view it in terms of ecology.[5] In contrast, 12 years later—even in far more conservative Spokane, WashingtonExpo '74 took environmentalism as its central theme. The theme of Spokane's Expo '74 was "Celebrating Tomorrow's Fresh New Environment.".[9]