Back to the Future: Century 21 revisited.
Back in the early 60’s Seattle threw one heck of a party for the world. The idea for the fair was born in 1955 to acknowledge the upcoming 50th anniversary of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. It was going to be a celebration of our amazing development of the American West.
We were still enjoying a post WWII economy, but these were Cold War times when the Russians pulled a fast one and launched Sputnik in 1957 and the Space Race began. It appeared to the West that anytime Nikita Khrushchev could get a crowd together and a camera rolling he was in our face pounding his shoe on a table and yelling “we will bury you” just to rub it in. We invited the Soviet Union to partake in Seattle, but they declined.
I was 12 years old when the Century 21 Exposition opened on April 21, 1962 and of course unaware it had been re-purposed to demonstrate we were in fact leading the way in science, technology, space, and the future.
Now looking back 50 years through the long lense of memories and life, it strikes me how this fair evoked such a powerful promise for the future. It presented a grand vision that through science and humanities we could live together, communicate, travel, learn, and enjoy life in the age of tomorrow.
The timing of Century 21 was perfect for a kid like me headed for his teens. This bigger than life multimedia montage of the future had its affect on me almost overnight. Up until then my view of the world was inherited and my heroes were Hollywood cowboys, soldiers, and a few sports figures. Now it included a future with space travel, satellites, technology, communications, monorails, and the dream of hover cars.
They were talking about the future and I was all in!
It’s interesting to witness how this vision of the future played out. Though early computers existed and global networks conceived, little did we see their coming impact in our lives. I commend the vision creators who as inhabitants of their time conjured up quite a metaphor for the coming new age 38 years before its time.
Almost 10 million people attended the fair and it is still the only worlds fair to realise a profit! When it closed on October 21, 1962 President John F. Kennedy was to slated to attend and give the closing speech but he called in sick with a bad cold. Later we'd learn it wasn’t a cold, he was dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The promise of tomorrow that Century 21 created did have a caveat. “Much of it depends on man’s humanity to man.”
And it does lead me to contemplate, "What bubbleator do we peer into the future from today?"
The irony in life is it always includes a mix of good and bad no matter what our half empty half full vision of it is. Yet I remain optimistic. I salute the dreamweavers of the 21st Century. They were called upon and they delivered.
Thank you Seattle World’s Fair and Happy 50th Birthday! On this occasion you give me great cause to reflect and remember...
Embrace a vision of the future that holds promise.