Archive Gallery: From Chicago to Shanghai, 138 Visionary Years of World’s Fairs

Giant volt generators, rocket tramways, flying family cars, and more great exhibitions from World's Fairs throughout the years

Last May, we had the privilege of visiting Expo 2010 in Shanghai, where we got first looks at the inventive pavilions. Where else, other than at an international exposition, can you tour a spiny Seed Cathedral or make contact with a giant robotic baby?

Since their inception, World’s Fairs have whisked millions of visitors to far-off places: Lisbon, Osaka, New York, and, of course, the future. The tradition of World’s Fairs goes back to 1851, when London hosted the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park’s Crystal Palace. Between then and Expo 2010, World’s Fairs have evolved from industrial exhibitions to platforms for cross-cultural dialogue, to vehicles for promoting the host countries themselves.

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They might last just six months, but remnants of the most memorable expositions remain standing today. Those of us who have driven by the Unisphere in Queens and the Space Needle in Seattle can’t help but imagine the surrounding fanfare in their heyday. If mankind is still around in 5,000 years, our descendants may open the Westinghouse Time Capsule from the 1939 New York World’s Fair in awe of the millennia they missed out on.

Lucky for us, Popular Science has been around long enough to see how World’s Fairs have reflected the past century. We were there in 1893, when Nikola Tesla and Westinghouse Electric illuminated Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition. We were there in 1937, when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union set up competing pavilions in Paris. We were there in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy skipped the Seattle Expo’s closing ceremony to deal with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

What are you waiting for? See our gallery for a tour through the past century’s grandest fairgrounds and pavilions.