In 1939, 12-year-old Edward J. Orth (1927-1989) of Queens, NY, went to the New York World’s Fair with his class from Public School 136. The next summer, in 1940, Orth returned to the Fair determined to cover more ground, see more exhibitions, and to save every souvenir and piece of information he could find. The Fair’s theme, “Building the World of Tomorrow,” celebrated the achievements of modern science and industrialization and offered an optimistic vision of the future world—a vision the young Orth embraced enthusiastically.
One of the exhibitions Orth visited was the Hall of Inventions, which opened on June 7, 1940. The hall marked the 150th Anniversary of the American patent system and celebrated the achievements of American inventors. Harvey D. Gibson, Chairman of the Board for the Fair Corporation, said in his opening remarks for the hall, “the American inventors it honored had been responsible for making the world a better a place in which to live and were shaping new and better devices for the betterment of life.” The Hall of Inventions held examples of patents models, the original Selden automobile, a cotton gin, sewing machines, and patented plants and flowers from both organizations, such as the Smithsonian, and individual inventors. Orth said in a 1964 New York Times interview, “It was a beautiful exposition, which though it expired in the dark days of winter of 1940, continues to inspire me toward building a better ‘World of Tomorrow.’”
The Fair’s impact on Orth prompted him to study architecture and urban planning, a profession where he felt he could contribute to making the future better. Orth eventually became an urban planner for the City of Los Angeles from 1954-1984. Orth collected World’s Fair materials his entire life, with a special emphasis on the New York World’s Fair, 1939-1940. He amassed a collection of over 400 boxes of Fair-related materials that would become the Edward J. Orth Memorial Archives of the World's Fair, which he donated to the National Museum of American History's Archives Center.
Shortly before his death in 1989, Orth said in a New York Times article, “''It was love at first sight,'' he said of the Fair. ''Things were so uncertain. I knew eventually there would be war and I'd be drafted. But I visited the Futurama first thing every morning. I loved the night lighting, the landscape and all the color. The Fair helped me face the future.''
Additional resources at the Archives Center documenting World’s Fairs include the Borden Company 1939 New York World’s Fair Collection; Division of Community Life’s World’s Fair Collection, 1876-1993; Alice R. Hillis World’s Fair Film, 1939; Memories of the New York’s World’s Fair, 1939-1940; Daniel H. Meyerson World’s Fair Collection, 1962-1982; New York World’s Fair Collection, 1939; Leon Weinraub Chicago World’s Fair Scrapbook, 1933; the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, World’s Expositions, 1851-1965; and the Larry Zim World’s Fair Collection, 1841-1988
- Science News-Letter, page 374, June 15, 1940.
- Science News-Letter, page 100, August 2, 1940.
- World’s Fair Daily, No. 137, September 24, 1940.
- Alden, Robert. “'39 Fair Lives on for Californian: It Gave Him His Vocation and a Life-Long Hobby,” New York Times, August 16, 1954.
- “Home and Garden,” New York Times, March 2, 1989.