Mental Floss has a fun article about seven things that were introduced at World’s Fairs. It’s a good read, but it looks at only big items like the Eiffel Tower (introduced at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair) and the Ford Mustang (introduced at 1964 New York World’s Fair).
However, World’s Fairs have preview many new items that are more commonplace and still around today. Here are some of the ones that I could think of:
1893 Chicago World’s Fair
- Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit Gum
- Spray paint – Oddly enough, this was a display at the fair. It was developed by Francis David Millet as a way to finish some of the buildings on time for the fair to open.
- Pressed penny souvenirs – They are standard at most tourist attractions nowadays.
- Cracker Jacks
- Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer – Originally called Pabst Select, the beer won a blue ribbon at the fair and the name change soon followed.
- The Zipper
- The telautograph – a very early version of the fax machine invented by Elisha Gray.
- Cream of Wheat
1904 St. Louis World’s Fair
- “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” – This saying was created by J. T. Stinson a Missouri fruit grower who used it to promote apples.
- The Poulson telegraphone – An early version of the telephone answering machine.
- Tabletop stove
- Electrical plug and wall outlet
1939 New York World’s Fair
- Cellophane – Among the uses DuPont pictured for this was clothing.
- Nylon stockings
- Television – The first U.S. television broadcast was President Franklin D. Roosevelt welcoming the visitors to the fair on opening day April 30, 1939.
1964 New York World’s Fair
- Belgian waffles
- Picturephone – This was an early version of videoconferencing. Attendees could videochat in New York with people using a picturephone in Disneyland in California and other locations around the country.
I know a gentleman named Chuck Caldwell who attended the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair when he was 10 years old. He loved it. Although he didn’t get to attend, the fair featured the first Major League All-Star Baseball game.
The thing that he remembers most was the Sky Ride. Visitors rode elevators to the top of tall, steel towers that rose 628 feet into the air. One tower was on the mainland while the other tower stood 1,850 feet away across the lagoon on the fair’s island, which had been built atop a reclaimed landfill. From the observation deck there, he could see far into the city and over Lake Michigan. On clear days, a person could also see into adjacent states. An aerial track carried double-decker rocket cars across the lagoon and 210 feet above it for a distance of more than one-third of a mile to other tower.
He also had a hand in a circus display at the 1982 Knoxville World’s Fair. Howard Tibbals had been a fan of the circus since his childhood. In 1956, he began building what would become his lifetime passion, a scale circus. Such an undertaking required help and Tibbals had seen Chuck’s work as a sculptor and hired him to help built his highly-detailed model circus. Tibbals could build the miniature wagons and tents, but he needed Chuck to make the performers and animals for him.
Nowadays, unfortunately, the World’s Fairs aren’t even called that. If you’re lucky, they will be referred to as World Expositions, but often, they are called Registered expositions. They are also no longer an annual event. The last registered exposition was in Milan, Italy, in 2015. It ran from May 1 to October 31 of that year.
There are plans for a world exposition in Kazakhstan in 2017. So far, the United States is not one of the 30 confirmed countries that will be participating in it.