The Seattle Century 21 Exposition held a unique position among the World Fairs in that the exposition actually drew a profit. Perhaps this encouraged those in New York which held its own exposition just two years later. Although the one in New York left considerable influence on the ideas of modernism in America, the Seattle version also left its mark.
One of the icons of the Century 21 Exposition, the Space Needle, still shines as a symbol on the skyline of Seattle, even though since the time it was built taller buildings have been constructed.
The Space Needle’s design came as a compromise between the tethered balloon of Edward E. Carlson, a Seattle architect, John Graham, another Seattle architect, who favored a flying saucer and the hour-glass shape introduced by Victor Steinbrueck, all under the notion of the space age. After all, the Space Needle does lead one to think of the Jetsons. Is it coincidence that the form of the Jetson’s House came about after the Space Needle opened?
Straining credulity, the Needle opened April 21, 1962 after construction between April 17, 1961 and December 8, 1961. It is quite hard to believe that such an unusual structure only took a few months to complete. In today’s time, it hardly seems possible with all the regulation and government oversight.
When one looks at the Needle, the structure seems so precariously poised, that any minute a strong wind or mild earthquake would come along and knock it down. However, the base is held solid by a massive concrete foundation that took 467 full truck loads to pour and the supports are bolted down with 72 gigantic bolts 30 feet long. The structure can take an earthquake up to magnitude 9.0 and winds up to 200 miles per hour.
Also, the Space Needle’s color has changed since 1962. Originally the body of the building sported an olive-green, the legs were as we see them now as white, with the saucer a red and the roof a golden hue. In 2012 Seattle painted the Space Needle dome its original “galaxy gold” color to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Another extant creation of the Century 21 Exposition is the monorail. The monorail was the production of ALWEG Research Corporation, a company in Cologne, Germany and best known in the USA for the monorail at Disney Land in Southern California, opened in 1959. Originally, the Seattle Center Monorail brought 8 million people to and from the happenings at the Exposition.
Of course, not to be outdone, New York in 1964 also had a monorail, but instead of the train running along the top of the rail, the New York version hung below.
The difference between the World’s Fair in New York comes from the space age emphasis in Seattle. The Century 21 Exposition was about the future and the technological and cultural achievements to come. The New York offering was about the modern, the creative inventions of the new age.
Take the opportunity with the video below to notice the colors and furniture of the mid-century:
For a little trip on the Monorail to the Needle: