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Century 21 World's Fair opens in Seattle on April 21, 1962. Essay 5396 : Printer-Friendly Format

On April 21, 1962, at 11 a.m. the Century 21 World's Fair opens in Seattle for a 184 day run. The 74-acre fairgrounds are located at Seattle Center, north of downtown Seattle at the foot of Queen Anne Hill. The World's Fair was conceived to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, held in 1909 on the University of Washington campus. Its theme is to consider the possibilities of life in the twenty-first century.

Launching Century 21

Actor and comedian Danny Kaye read the Fair's credo, followed by opera diva Mary Costa singing the national anthem. Broadway star John Raitt (father of musician Bonnie Raitt) sang "Meet Me at the Needle." A 21-gun salute was fired with a 334-year-old cannon recovered from the Swedish warship Vasa. A countdown clock started by President Eisenhower in 1959 clicked down to 000:00:00:00.

At that moment, President Kennedy, on Easter holiday in Florida, pressed a telegraph key to start the fair. The key, festooned with gold nuggets, was the same key that President Taft had used to open the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle in 1909. This time, instead of a simple coast-to-coast electronic signal, the key triggered a radio telescope in Maine, which picked up an impulse from a star 10,000 light years away. This impulse was directed towards the fairgrounds to start the festivities and open the gates to 51,510 first-day visitors.

The Space Needle Carillon clanged its 538 bells over 44 loudspeakers, and 2,000 balloons with "See You In Seattle" printed on them were released high into the air. Water-skiers gaily circled a course set up within the stadium, while aerialists rode a motorcycle on top of a cable running between the stadium and the Space Needle. Aerial bombs burst, raining tiny flags down upon the attendees, and 10 Air Force F-102s roared overhead.

The event was marred when one of these crashed in Mountlake Terrace, killing two residents and destroying several homes.

Century 21 was truly a World's Fair. In addition to a major science exhibit and dozens of corporate and state exhibits, 59 countries were represented in 20 foreign exhibits. It featured the Space Needle and Monorail, which would become Seattle landmarks. The fairgrounds would become the Seattle Center.

Don Duncan, Meet Me at the Center: The Story of Seattle Center From the Beginnings to 1962 Seattle World's Fair to the 21st Century (Seattle: Seattle Center Foundation, 1992).

Travel through time (chronological order):
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Special Suite: Century 21 Exposition |

Related Topics: Fairs & Festivals |

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You

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TV commercial promoting Century 21, the Seattle World's Fair, 1962
Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives

Chevron Map for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair
Courtesy Chevron

Seattle World's Fair postcard, 1962

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