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The Unisphere, a giant steel globe located in New York City's Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, was crafted as a symbol of world peace for the 1964-65 World's Fair. (Photograph by RooM the Agency, Alamy)

It’s a Small World After All

The 1964-65 New York World’s Fair opened in the midst of the atomic age, the space race, the Cold War, and growing civil rights unrest.

A 12-story stainless steel model of Earth called the “Unisphere” symbolized its theme of peace. Walt Disney showed off his new audio-animatronic technology with a ride called “It’s a Small World,” dedicated to the children of the planet.

Many countries set up pavilions or exhibits (the Vatican, incredibly, shipped Michelangelo’s priceless “Pieta”—the original, mind you—to Queens!). American companies flexed their muscles and showed off their wares (color TV, jet packs).

The fair attracted 51.6 million visitors, including the Beatles, Marian Anderson, Liberace, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Pope Paul VI—as well as my parents, just arrived from the Philippines, part of a new wave of immigrants eager to contribute to and partake in the American dream.

Dad, an engineer, checked out the new Ford Mustang. Mom, a doctor and pregnant with me, rested in the shade of the Philip Johnson-designed Tent of Tomorrow and took in the panoply.

Every few years, an imperfect but striving world comes together in pride of human progress, invention, and culture.

What did past World’s Fairs showcase?

Icons such as the Eiffel Tower and the Seattle Space Needle. Inventions such as air conditioning and Smell-O-Vision. Fun foods such as cotton candy and hot dogs. Postcards and travel posters. An evolving appreciation of world cultures.

And perhaps most important, a hopeful vision for the future of mankind. It is a small world, after all.

Attend one yourself: The Milan Expo just opened this month.

Norie Quintos is National Geographic Travelers acting editor in chief. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @NorieCicerone.

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