Updated poster list and highlight of New York World’s Fair 1939-40


To highlight the latest version of the TUC Library Post Guide guest blogger Jenni Rockliff describes our World’s Fair posters.

Within the TUC’s poster collection are three colourful posters from the World’s Fair, which was held in New York from 1939 to 1940.

One of these has artwork which is credited to Stanley (Stan) Ekman (1913-1998). The poster portrays ‘Elmer’ and his family, characters created to promote the World’s Fair. Stan Ekman, the creator of this artwork, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. Amongst other artwork, he produced the American Airline logo, art for US Air Army recruitment posters and illustrations for various newspapers and magazines in the USA. He was a member of the Society of Illustrators in New York, Artist Guild in Chicago and the Society of Typographic Arts.

The TUC’s General Council Report for 1939 outlines how the TUC could not afford to have its own exhibit at the World’s Fair, but was able to include an exhibit in the ‘Ministry of Labour Section of the Fair.’

The Modern Records Centre at Warwick University also hold a file of TUC correspondence on the negotiations to get this exhibit.

From the Guide to the pavilion of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the British colonial empire, the Ministry of Labour Section of the British Pavilion was called the ‘Public Welfare Hall’ and that the section contributed to by the TUC was called ‘Britain at Work.’ The British pavilion also had a section displaying the Lincoln Cathedral copy of the Magna Carta, which left the UK for the first time. This copy was thought to be safer in the USA once Britain joined the war and wasn’t returned to the UK until 1947.

The Fair opened on 11th May 1939, with the theme ‘Building the World of Tomorrow’, and was intended to run for a year. When it opened Czechoslovakia had already been occupied by Germany; The situation soon escalated, with Germany occupying Poland, and on 3 September 1939 Britain declared war on Germany.

The Fair had failed to make enough money so it was reopened in 1940 and had a new theme ‘For Peace and Freedom’, rather than its original theme, in order to capture the spirit of the times. It was at this point that ‘Elmer’ was introduced as a character designed to appeal to everyday people and the entrance fee was reduced to 50 cents. The pavilions of Poland, Czechoslovakia and the USSR did not reopen for the 1940 season.

On July 4, 1940, a canvas bag or satchel was found ‘ticking’ in the British Pavilion at the Fair. The bag was removed to a safe area. Detectives Joseph Lynch, 33, and Ferdinand “Fred” Socha, of New York Police Department’s Bomb and Forgery Squad examined the bag and established that it contained sticks of dynamite. The bomb exploded while they were examining it, killing both men and injuring four other police officers, Emil Vyskocil, William Federer, Joseph Gallagher and Detective Martin Schuchman.  It was never established who had planted the bomb although there were theories that it might have been Nazi sympathisers.

The New York World Fair closed 27th October 1940 and there is a park called Flushing Meadows–Corona Park on the site.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>