Worlds of Tomorrow: Westinghouse Manufacturing & Electric Company and the World Expositions of 1893 and 1939

Creators
Peter Nicholas Otis, Sean Fitzell, and Carolyn Li-Madeo

Transcript
From Chicago to New York City, the World Exposition always offered a prime opportunity for American corporations to promote their services. No firm has shaped the World’s Fair in America quite like the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company.

Founded by George Westinghouse in 1886, Westinghouse Electric was an early supplier of electricity that harnessed alternating current. Westinghouse was locked in bitter rivalry with Thomas Edison’s General Electric Company, which utilized direct current, a system Westinghouse considered counterproductive. Each firm was determined to prove that its electric current would light up the world of tomorrow.

The World Columbian Exposition of 1893 settled this corporate conflict. Named to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus arriving in the New World and set in Chicago’s Jackson Park, this was the first world’s fair to be fully powered by electricity. The Columbian commission offered a handsome bid to establish an electrical network capable of powering the entire fairground’s incandescent lighting. Westinghouse won the job by underbidding at $339,000.

With the flick of a gold and ivory switch, President Grover Cleveland activated 92,000 lights to commence the Exposition on May 1, 1893. The lights revealed a neoclassical playground of white stucco buildings to a deeply inspired crowd of 600,000.

The spectacular success of the incandescent “White City” was attributed to Westinghouse’s versatile alternating current system. Westinghouse especially embellished the features of the Electrical Building. Within its walls, competing electrical firms exhibited bedazzling experiments and demonstrations. Among them was Westinghouse’s Nikola Tesla, displaying his polyphase-alternating electrical generator.

Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing dominated once again at 1939 New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows. The Theme? The “World of Tomorrow.”

Westinghouse built a modern company pavilion that featured two principal wings enclosed in five-story convex glass windows: the Hall of Electric Power, and the Hall of Electrical Living.

The Hall of Electrical Living demonstrated how electrical technology would remove burden from modern society’s daily chores.

The star of this hall was Elektro, a seven-foot-tall, 260-pound steel and aluminum robot built by Westinghouse Engineering in Mansfield, Ohio. Elektro could perform an array of actions, including smoking cigarettes and sweeping the floor.

In 1940, he was joined by his canine companion Sparko the Electric Dog.

A towering luminescent rod, decked with concentric rings, stood in the court of the Westinghouse Complex. This neon SingingTower of Light glowed red and blue in sync with symphonic music and alternating fountain waters.

Westinghouse vowed to provide future generations with a glimpse of 1939. Its engineers forged a corrosion-resistant capsule designed to preserve its contents for the next five thousand years.

Shaped like a torpedo, the ninety-inch, 800-pound time capsule was wrought from a new copper alloy called Cupaloy.

It was loaded with everyday things, including clothing, textiles, silverware, currency, and tools. Also enclosed are scholarly works covering topics from the humanities, sciences and industry.

The capsule ceremoniously was committed to the “Immortal Well,’ fifty feet beneath the Westinghouse Pavilion.

During the 1964 World Exposition, Westinghouse committed a second capsule to the earth, buried ten feet from the site of the original. Both capsules are set to be unearthed in the year 6939, exemplifying Westinghouse Company’s enduring belief in technology’s power to forge a bright “World of Tomorrow.”

Bibliography and credits
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