Everyone knows the term “Worlds Fair.” It conjures up magical memories you never experienced from the days of old. Of flying cars, lunar colonies, and an atomic age. Of Ferris Wheels, Unispheres, and Eiffel Towers. Of ice cream cones, PBR beer, and Belgian Waffles.
Elisha Otis gave the world the first passenger elevator at the 1853 Worlds Fair in New York’s Bryant Park. Nikola Tesla made Chicago the first city to be illuminated by electricity for the 1893 Worlds Fair. Walt Disney designed the first “It’s a Small World Ride” as a corporate pavilion for the 1964/65 Worlds Fair in New York.
To most Americans, this next statement may come as a surprise: Worlds Fairs still happen. Every five years, a six month Worlds Fair takes place and it’s called a World Expo. In 2010, the World Expo took place in Shanghai, and 73 million people visited. In 2015, Milan hosted the Expo and drew 29 million visitors. The 2020 Expo will be in Dubai.
In 2002, the U.S. government cancelled its membership in the international treaty organization that regulates World Expos. From 1998–2001, the government did not pay its $25,000 annual dues to the treaty organization. In 2000, congress issued a report urging the government withdraw its membership.
The final piece of information that led to the creation of our company, Worlds Fair USA, was the U.S. government’s cancelled membership. We saw an opportunity for a private organization to pick up where the government left off and organize the first American Worlds Fair since 1984. With no active federal interest nor appropriation, we figured it’s the perfect time for the first ever privatization of a Worlds Fair.
As a start up organization tackling a big goal, we’re working to prove the Worlds Fair as a viable/profitable venture and ourselves as the right people to operate it. As the fair is humankind’s biggest and most epic event, we need to become the world’s greatest event organizers. Our plan is to organize incrementally larger case studies until we demonstrate that the Worlds Fair can work and we’re the ones to make it so. On Aug. 6th & 7th, 2016 in NYC, we organized our first mini-Worlds Fair called Worlds Fair Nano. Over 2,000 people showed up to our first event over its two days. We had interactive tech demonstrations (virtual reality, drones, exoskeleton companies), futurist talks, live music, live art, food, and even puppies. Nano gave a small glimpse into what a 21st century American Worlds Fair could look like, and demonstrated that thousands of people were willing to spend their time and money on our event. We learned that people want fun and affordable events that let them try the future- something that the Worlds Fair does in spades. Worlds Fair Nano wasn’t just tech-industry pros. There were infants playing with a reactive sound wall and elderly visitors trying virtual reality for the first time. We saw our theory [that the future is for everyone, and if given a chance to access it, people would] in action. Next up, we’re bringing Worlds Fair Nano to San Francisco in January 2017, aiming for a 10,000 person event.
We’ll continue to increase both the size and the quantity of our events- optimizing our content and operations as we learn. We’ll produce multiple events at the same time during the second half of 2017 in cities across the U.S. Eventually, if not by the end of 2017, we’ll prove that fun and affordable events built around interactive technology and artistic content captures a market worthy of a Worlds Fair. As we’re growing the business, we’ll be simultaneously raising awareness for the Worlds Fair brand and getting people excited for the next great American Worlds Fair.
A private event production company has advantages over an untested government-appointed Worlds Fair operator. The best practices that we learned from just our first Worlds Fair Nano apply to the six month Worlds Fair USA. The scale will change, but the experiences from selling sponsorships to cutting deals with food vendors will remain applicable.
The other advantage that a private Worlds Fair operator holds is in its ability to be a proper long-term custodian to the fairgrounds development due to its financial interest in the project. As publicly funded entities, other Worlds Fair organizers don’t have sufficient incentive to see the project through to its full potential. One of our priorities is a dual-purpose design to the fairgrounds. First, we intend to develop the 1,000+ acre site into a fairgrounds for use during the six month event called Worlds Fair USA. Second, we plan to convert the fairgrounds to its permanent use as a 100% sustainable community. So far, we’ve found three possible sites that could work for the fairgrounds development. We’ve gained inspiration from other dual-purpose projects such as the London 2012 Olympics and Kazakhstan’s Expo 2017 (in-between the six month World Expos that happen every five years, a smaller three month event called a “Recognized Expo” occurs). The trick to building the future is that it’s expensive. The obstacle to building the renewable homes, schools, and offices of the future is not technical capability, it’s money. A Worlds Fair is an opportunity to make that future affordable. Through ticket and sponsorship sales, a 100 million person kick-off event can act as a major funding source for a sustainable future.
To be fair, our plan for using Worlds Fairs as sustainable-future-building vehicles is not how all this started. Before a company called Worlds Fair USA was even the slightest tickle of a pre-thought, I was a Worlds Fair hobbyist who found interest in the subject after reading Erik Larson’s book about the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair called The Devil in the White City. In that book, I learned that 27 million people, or 42% of the U.S. population at the time, travelled to this six month event in Chicago via horse and buggy or train. I learned that humans saw electricity used on a large scale for the first time at that Worlds Fair thanks to Nikola Tesla. I learned that George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. built the first Ferris wheel specifically for that fair.
These awe-inspiring facts drove me to learn more about Worlds Fairs during the years that followed. I eventually recognized that almost every time a Worlds Fair happened, the future came with it. For the first ever Worlds Fair in 1851 in London they built the famous Crystal Palace, which was the first ever pre-fabricated structure. In 1876 in Philadelphia, Alexander Graham Bell gave the world the first telephone (also at that fair the Statue of Liberty got its start- a story for another post). In 1889 in Paris, a fellow named Gustave built his famous tower- the Eiffel Tower- to be used as the entry arch into the Worlds Fair. In 1904 in St. Louis, it was the first electrical outlet and ice cream cone. In 1939 in New York, NBC broadcasted President Franklin D. Roosevelt live from the fair’s opening ceremony for the first ever live television broadcast. In 1964 in New York, the first video conference took place courtesy of Bell Labs. In 1982 in Knoxville, it was the first touch screen. In 2005 in Aichi, Japan, it was the first urban maglev train. These facts, among others, led me to believe that there was something about the Worlds Fair that facilitated species-level innovation.
What I believe I’ve recognized and why I continue to pursue this “moonshot” of an idea is that people need a reason to create. Whether it’s the brilliant thinker calculating the idea or the worker who brings her the toolbox- each party involved in the creation process needs a reason for progressing. The Worlds Fair, as humanity’s grandest stage, places a deadline on progress. It provides people with a reason to create. The Worlds Fair has an opening and closing day, and that finite nature forces people to bring their vision into reality. Because of the size of the event- the tens of millions who visit, the billions of dollars spent, and the global variety of organizations involved- massive innovations such as electricity, live television, and the urban mag lev train are given the amount of energy they require to come to life.
Will Worlds Fair USA be the deadline that the world needs to create a 100% renewable, smart, and driverless community? Will quantum computing, wifi-enabled human cyborgs, a Mars colony, artificial general intelligence, and amortality come out of the next American Worlds Fair? Who knows…but they just might.