Century 21 World's Fair opens in Seattle on April 21, 1962.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 3/08/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5396
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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).

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