Talk to a baby boomer who grew up in the NY/NJ/CT tri-state area, and they’ll likely be able to recall memories of the 1964 World’s Fair. If you’re lucky, they’ll remember some toe-tappin’ ditties about chemistry. More video and photos after the jump.
The World’s Fair is an international exposition of technology and culture. It’s been around for over 150 years, but it hasn’t been back to the U.S. since 1984. (Possibly because Epcot fulfills that niche, but more likely because the U.S. held it by far the most often during the 20th century).
Chemistry’s hotspot at the 1964 Fair was at Dupont’s pavilion. The edifice, called the “Wonderful World of Chemistry”, was nestled across the way from General Electric’s “Progressland” Pavilion, and just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the “Festival of Gas”. (If you don’t believe me, check out the myriad websites about the fair, which are chock-full of nifty maps and memorabilia).
Inside the pavilion, visitors were treated to a gee-whiz feast for the senses, complete with lab demonstrations and a musical revue (also called “Wonderful World of Chemistry”).
Seeing the spectacle onscreen made me think about Beth Halford’s recent conversation with producer Stephen Lyons, who advocated that funding be directed to promoting evenhanded media coverage of chemistry, rather than image advertising. I don’t know that chemistry had a better reputation back in the 60′s than it does today. But by focusing on the wonders of the future without much mention of the risks (pollution, etc), maybe companies engendered a kind of faith/trust that set them up for a fall when things went wrong.
How do you think a production like “Wonderful World of Chemistry” would be received today? Is it unrealistic to think that a perky musical would ever bolster chemistry’s image with today’s public?
The demonstration stage.
Backstage as molecule-hatted dancers wow the crowd.
The wonders of plastics, put to song.
This tune is about Corfam, an imitation leather that Dupont had just developed at the time, and was heavily marketing to shoe companies. It’s not used very much today.
Movie and photo credits: Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE
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