The Roots of Modernity via 1930’s World’s Fairs

Designing Tomorrow Image
Although racing to the nearest Apple store to pick up your new iPhone may rank No. 1 on the docket, it’s equally (if not more) important to see and understand the roots of modernity. In 2010, it’s rare for anyone to bat an eyelash at the latest technological advancement—it will be replaced by next week with a thinner, shinier nemesis anyway. But In the 1930’s, in the midst of the Great Depression, Americans were not so jaded.

Beginning on October 2, the National Building Museum gives us the opportunity to see what Americans nearly 80 years ago flocked to see by opening its “Designing Tomorrow: America’s World Fairs of the 1930’s” exhibition. The exhibit will display over 200 artifacts from the six fairs during the depression era. The World’s Fairs gave its visitors a promising and intriguing glimpse of tomorrow, by displaying technological advances such as all-electric kitchens, robots, model homes, urban designs, and modernist murals.

There will be seven galleries: Welcome to the Fairs; A Fair-going Nation; Building a Better Tomorrow; Better Ways to Move; Better ways to Live; Better Times; and Legacies. The galleries will showcase maps, assembled artifacts, posters, and video footage that will give visitors a historical flavor, and hopefully, put them in the shoes of a 1930’s American in awe.

The exhibition explores other sides of the World Fairs, as well. For example, it illustrates how leading corporations and the federal government used the fairs to experiment with display and public relations techniques, and to have the opportunity to introduce innovative ideas to Americans. It also highlights the significant impact that the World’s Fairs had on post-war American design and lifestyle.

The National Building Museum supplements the exhibition with educational programs, which examine the influence of the World Fairs on modern design. With perpetual technological innovation today, it is easy for us to forget where it all started.

–Zoe Namerow

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