Share in our discoveries across three projects as we work to provide the first intellectual access to our hidden treasures relating to work and labor in early 20th Century New England, the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair and its period, and Boston local TV news.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fair License

In 1938, with construction on the fairgrounds underway, the New York World’s Fair began to edge its way into the frame of everyday life for New Yorkers throughout the state, as we see in this frame enlargement from a 1938 home movie in Northeast Historic Film’s Cyrus Pinkham Collection.

Credit: Cyrus Pinkham Collection, Northeast Historic Film

As reported in a January 17, 1938, Time Magazine article, “debonair, voluble Grover Whalen, Manhattan's perennial greeter and president of the Fair, last year sold New York's Governor Herbert H. Lehman the idea of stamping...all 1938 automobile license plates [with] the phrase NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR 1939.” Whalen asserted that "Surely every automobile owner and driver in the State of New York should welcome the opportunity to act as an ambassador of good-will for the Empire State."

In his 2010 book, Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World’s Fair on the Brink of War, James Mauro observes that not every New Yorker was happy to be part of Whalen’s promotion machine:
Most citizens took the news in stride, yet if there was any indication of New York’s flippant attitude about the Fair, it came in the grumblings of drivers who wondered why they were being forced to carry free advertising on their cars.

One particular cynic, a forty-two-year-old mechanic from White Plains named Martin McBohin, expressed his displeasure by covering up the offending ad with electrical tape and subsequently got himself arrested for defacing a license plate. Before his trial, he announced to the press, “Next thing you know, the State will compel us to advertise someone’s corn flakes.”

Credit: Cyrus Pinkham Collection, Northeast Historic Film


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