Sixty years ago, the Century 21 Exposition opened its doors to the public amidst bells, balloons, and celebratory fighter jets. In the six months between April 21 and October 21, 1962, nearly ten million visitors flocked to the fairgrounds, what we now call Seattle Center, including celebrities like Elvis Presley, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, and Walt Disney.
With themes of modern science, space exploration, and the future, the Exposition, more commonly referred to as the Seattle World’s Fair, helped shape the world of science and technology and put Seattle on the map.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of this city-changing event, we’re looking back at how some of Seattle’s most iconic structures, the Space Needle and Seattle Center Monorail, were born. We also remember some of the features that have moved on, like the Bubbleator and Skyride. And last but not least, we honor some of the movers and shakers who made the six-month-long event possible.
Happy Birthday Seattle World’s Fair
On the eve of the 60th anniversary, local historian Feliks Banel, hosted a live celebration from the top of the Space Needle, with a guest list that included original fair personnel, attendees, and current leaders discussing the fair, its impact on the city, and how the energy of the “Spirit of ’62” could reinvigorate Seattle’s future.
Seattle World’s Fair: a trip down memory lane
Meet Elvis Presley’s Seattle World’s Fair wrangler, the security guard who literally fell right into Presley’s movie “It Happened at the World’s Fair,” and some of the folks behind the scenes whose planning and hard work made the fair a huge success before most people even knew how to find Seattle on a map.
The Space Needle: Renovating an icon
The Space Needle’s recent $100 million renovations speak to the thrill-seeker in all of us. The Seattle staple now boasts the world’s first and only revolving glass floor, another 17 tons of glass throughout the structure, and a swanky new cocktail bar. Plus, there are slanted glass benches for the most daring among us to “hang out” over the city.
Rev. Phyllis R. Beaumonte & the fair that changed Seattle
Born and raised in Seattle, Rev. Dr. Phyllis Ratcliff-Beaumonte says she’s proud to have worked on the team that brought the 1962 World’s Fair to Seattle, and she should be! Her boldness earned her a job as manager of advanced ticket sales which grossed over $4 million before opening day and attracted tourists, locals, and big-name celebrities from around the world.
Monorail maintenance team has a one-track mind
Each of the Seattle Monorail trains has traveled over a million miles and has shuttled millions of passengers between Westlake and Seattle Center. The 1962 fair attraction still carries visitors and Seattleites alike, but not without a little (okay, more than a little) elbow grease and a lot of love. There’s a whole team that works hard to keep the vintage trains in tiptop shape. Have a look behind the scenes at what it takes to keep the Monorail moving.
Skyride gets a second life at the Washington State Fair
Sixty years after the Seattle World’s Fair, one of its most beloved rides is still going strong. The Skyride gondolas carried visitors across the Seattle Center campus for 18 years after the fair concluded and now do the same at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup. Watch how the Skyride has fared since the fair.
U.S. Science Exhibit, now Pacific Science Center, designed by Seattle native
Seattle native, Garfield High School grad, and University of Washington alum Minoru Yamasaki was the architect of the U.S. Science Exhibit, now known as the Pacific Science Center. Its gothic arches, narrow vertical windows, and open plazas became part of Yamasaki’s signature style. He also designed Rainier Tower and what we now know as Puget Sound Plaza, but his most famous work was on New York City’s World Trade Center.
“Please step to the rear of the sphere”
The Bubbleator, the Seattle World’s Fair’s Jetsons-esque elevator, has since lived many lives in many locations. It began its career by lifting countless visitors in what we know today as the Climate Pledge Arena. But what happened to it after the fair? Learn more about the sphere’s well-rounded history and where it is now.