Arthur P. Molella is director of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Institution.
The post–World War II science-based technological revolution inevitably found its way into almost all international expositions with displays on atomic energy, space exploration, transportation, communications, and computers. Major advancements in Cold War science and technology helped to shape new visions of utopian futures, the stock-in-trade of world’s fairs. From the 1940s to the 1980s, expositions in the United States and around the world, from Brussels to Osaka to Brisbane, mirrored Cold War culture in a variety of ways, and also played an active role in shaping it. This volume illustrates the cultural change and strain spurred by the Cold War, a disruptive period of scientific and technological progress that ignited growing concern over the impact of such progress on the environment and humanistic and spiritual values. Through the lens of world’s fairs, contributors across disciplines offer an integrated exploration of the US–USSR rivalry from a global perspective and in the context of broader social and cultural phenomena—faith and religion, gender and family relations, urbanization and urban planning, fashion, modernization, and national identity—all of which were fundamentally reshaped by tensions and anxieties of the Atomic Age.
Since the first world’s fair in London in 1851, at the dawn of the era of industrialization, international expositions served as ideal platforms for rival nations to showcase their advancements in design, architecture, science and technology, industry, and politics. Before the outbreak of World War II, countries competing for leadership on the world stage waged a different kind of war—with cultural achievements and propaganda—appealing to their own national strengths and versions of modernity in the struggle for power. World’s Fairs on the Eve of War examines five fairs and expositions from across the globe—including three that were staged (Paris, 1937; Dusseldorf, 1937; and New York, 1939-40), and two that were in development before the war began but never executed (Tokyo, 1940; and Rome, 1942). This coauthored work considers representations of science and technology at world’s fairs as influential cultural forces and at a critical moment in history, when tensions and ideological divisions between political regimes would soon lead to war.