Saturday, April 21, 2012

Inventing the Space Age

April 21st, 1962 marked the date when the Space Age officially began. Fifty years ago today, Seattle opened the gates to the World's Fair and innovations of the 21st century were being forecast in every exhibition hall. Bell Labs promoted new push button telephones; GE had the kitchen of the future with electronic microwave ovens; and sleek, George Jetson-like cars were displayed by American car manufacturers. The Fair's iconic Space Needle, with its 360 degree orbiting restaurant in the sky, beamed over the fairgrounds like an outer space vehicle. My first visit that year seemed as if it was the most exciting thing on earth. And it truly was—as the 21st century promised us so much optimism. Fifty years later, we're far less optimistic, but we still have some of the great architecture and design of that era to appreciate. The Space Needle is still the city's most beloved architectural structure, and certainly the most recognizable. In 2002—forty years after the World's Fair opened—it officially became a registered federal trademark, which assigned rights to manage how its image could be used. In fact the Space Needle Corporation (which is so 21st century) takes its image very seriously. In 2004—and I'm not making this up—it filed an infringement suit against a snack company for featuring a heavily battered onion ring surrounding the Space Needle's observation deck. The ad suggested their onion rings "would boldly take your menu to new taste frontiers." Hmm...onion rings in space...never expected that fifty years ago. 21st century corporations really should learn to get along and play well with others.

Architectural renderings from the John Graham and Company Architects in Seattle are courtesy of the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collection. The design for the Seattle World's Fair Space Needle was conceived by Victor Steinbrueck, Edward Carlson and John Graham. The rotating wheel of the 1962 cocktail menu below included the 360 degree directional viewscapes simulating the orbital rotation of the restaurant from the Needle. The matchbook cover below is from the Letterology Century 21 Archives.

The Gayway was a three acre amusement park zone of carnival rides at the '62 World's Fair. Books of tickets, curiously called pleasure units, could be purchased to spend on the various amusement park rides. The name Gayway was just too gay evidently, and the zone of amusement later had its name changed to Fun Forest...I could just hear the boardroom discussions... "We want the name to reflect fun and the space age, but it has to represent the hardy Northwest lumberjack too." I guess the name Gayway Astro Forest was already taken.
Decals above and the natural gas industry's astrological character wheel below are from the flickrstream of What Makes the Pie Shops Tick. The cover illustration of Art Since 1950 was designed by Dick Elffers (1910-1990). Read more about it and see a poster for the fair he also designed in an earlier post here. The vintage astro fashion below is from eBay.

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