Then and Now: Photos of the New York World's Fair Half a Century Later

Nostalgia and futurism meet at the World's Fair.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

“Nostalgia: it’s delicate… but potent,” Don Draper tells a room of 1960s Eastman Kodak execs in Mad Men’s first season finale, “The Wheel.” He’s trying to convince the room to accept his ad pitch for the slide projector wheel that he’s re-christened as “the Carousel,” invoking that persuasive, heartstring-tugging power through old family photos. It works.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair. We’re taking a step back from imagining “what happens next” for a moment and instead taking a nostalgic trip down memory lane to see what the fair looked like way back when and how it’s changed since then.

The World’s Fair became an international tradition during the 1850s as a way to celebrate and exchange technological advances and cultural ideas between different countries. New York was home to the 1939/1940 World’s Fair as well as the 1964/1965 World’s Fair, with both taking place in Queens at Flushing Meadows Park.

Here’s a look at what the World’s Fair looked like to Mad Men-era visitors half a century ago:

The World's Fair with Shea Stadium in the background.PLCjr via Flickr
A close-up of the Unisphere fountain.PLCjr via Flickr
The exterior of a theater featuring marionette performances.PLCjr via Flickr
The Unisphere from another angle. Roger W via Flickr
The New York State exhibit at the 1964/1965 New York Worlds' Fair.Joe Haupt
On the ground at the World's Fair. Roger W via Flickr
A scene from Walt Disney's collaboration with General Electric, the Carousel of Progress.Roger W via Flickr
The Thailand Pavilion at the World's Fair.Joe Haupt via Flickr
The Coca-Cola Pavilion at the World's Fair. Joe Haupt via Flickr
The General Electric Pavilion at the World's Fair. Joe Haupt via Flickr

Now here’s a peek at what it looked like in 2014, during a rare glimpse inside the park for the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair’s 1964 opening:

The New York State Pavilion from afar.Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Detail of the New York State Pavilion. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A scene from the 50th anniversary celebration in 2014.Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Close-up detail of the Unisphere.Nick Laham/Getty Images

It’s clear to see that the old World’s Fair grounds have been neglected over the years. Luckily, this week also marks the completion of one of the last remaining structures from the World’s Fair: the New York State Pavilion.

Designed by Philip Johnson, the Pavilion fell into disarray over the years even after having been put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. However after a $3 million paint job this year, it’s finally looking a little more like it was meant to.

The ultra-colorful New York Pavilion, once upon a time. Joe Haupt via Flickr

We’re hoping the rest of the park can be restored to at least a fraction of its former glory, so we can look ahead to the next international gatherings we can have there.