Why Seattle’s Century 21 Was One of the U.S.’ Last World Fairs

Even saying the phrase ‘World’s Fair’ sounds outdated, evoking feelings of nostalgia rather than excitement (personally it always makes me think of Meet Me in St. Louis – a film made 78 years ago, set another 40 years into the past from its original release date). This recent piece from Smithsonian Magazine dives into the history of the World’s Fair and discusses the cultural and political changes that shifted the event’s purpose from educational, to entertainment, and that eventually erased the need for the fair entirely.

In many ways, Century 21’s world of tomorrow has become the world of today. The U.S. emerged victorious in the Cold War and successfully shared the fair’s vision with the world: one of American ascendance, scientific progress and capitalist consumption. World’s fairs, meanwhile, have seemingly fallen out of fashion in America. The last time the U.S. hosted one was 38 years ago, in 1984, when New Orleans presented the Louisiana World Exposition.

“The purposes of the fair have been taken over by other mediums,” says Lydia Mattice Brandt, an architectural historian at the University of South Carolina. “The way that [fairs] offered fantasy … is today so easy to get in other ways, whether it’s physical experiences like theme parks or movies [and the] internet.”

Read more.


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