50 Years Back: Futurama at Flushing Meadows

Centered in the middle of the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York, stands the “Unisphere,” a landmark designed to celebrate the beginning of the space age and a representation of worldwide progress. Around it, various global corporations set out to display their new products, innovations, as well as inventions fit for the future.

One of those companies, General Motors, showed fair-goers their view of what the future held with the Futurama II, a second iteration of the 1939 World’s Fair’s Futurama I. The 8-1/2-acre site on the fairgrounds depicted a future that addressed problems with transportation and natural resources. Solutions like obtaining oil from the bottom of the ocean, drilling for ore in Antarctica, foresting with the use of lasers, and exploring the moon were just a few of the futuristic innovations displayed.

Also available to fair-goers was GM’s “Avenue of Progress,” a more near-future look into the company’s innovations and inventions. Three new concept vehicles were on display: the Firebird IV, made to get people cross-country as fast as possible; the GM-X, a high-speed, high-performance coupe for the ultimate gear-head; and finally the Runabout, an urban vehicle for the common shopper, complete with a shopping cart in the rear. Designed under the direction of Vice President William L. Mitchell, the vehicles were over 25 years in the making.

The innovations displayed by GM at the World’s Fair weren’t limited to automobiles, however. Products like knock-free gas, a refrigerant gas, and new power sources ranging from diesels to gas turbines showed the future of power. In the healthcare industry, a centrifuge for the proper handling of Polio vaccines as well as a mechanical heart and lung machine showed the company’s drive to think – and create – outside the box.

Fifty years after Futurama II wowed over 29 million people during its two years at the World’s Fair, General Motors continues to be at the forefront of pure and applied research. While the depiction of Futurama II isn’t entirely the world in which we live today, it is a strong statement of GM’s mission to constantly innovate.