World’s Fair

From the 1870s through the early 1940s, World’s Fairs were common. The Golden Gate International Exposition took place on Treasure Island (an artificial island built for the fair, attached to Yerba Buena Island near San Francisco) in both 1939 and in 1940. The fair was initiated in part to celebrate the openings of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. Using the theme “Pageant of the Pacific,” it spotlighted the nations bordering the Pacific Ocean.

California’s 1939 license plate advertised the World’s Fair held at Treasure Island.

The New York World’s Fair ran from April to October 1964, and the same months in 1965. It had the theme of “Peace Through Understanding” and featured a 12-story-high, stainless-steel model of the earth called the Unisphere. New York’s 1964 base plate made note of the event, but it lacked sticker wells – so the 1965 sticker was relegated to a narrow strip which could fit between the serial and the border.

New York introduced this base plate to motorists in 1964 to commemorate the city’s World’s Fair.

The International Exposition On the Environment, Spokane 1974, ran for six months and featured the tagline “Celebrating Tomorrow’s Fresh New Environment.” At the time, Spokane was the smallest city to hold a World’s Fair recognized by the Bureau International des Expositions. Over five million people attended and the IMAX theater made its debut at the fair. The site, built on a railyard in the downtown area, became Riverfront Park, and a couple of structures still remain. Washington did not issue a special plate, but did place the Expo logo on that year’s registration sticker.

New Orleans was the site of the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition, held exactly 100 years after the city’s World Cotton Centennial. The theme of this fair was “The World of Rivers-Fresh Water as a Source of Life.” It included a pelican mascot named Seymore D. Fair, and a monorail crossing the Mississippi River; however, this fair did not meet attendance expectations, and it needed government intervention to finish its run. Among the speculated reasons for the shortfall was that just two years earlier a fair had been held in relatively nearby Knoxville, TN. The U.S. has not hosted a World’s Fair since.

To help kick-off the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans, Louisiana issued this base plate which was on the roads for four years; unlike California and New York above, the fair in this case ran for just one year.

In 1986, I attended Expo 86 with my family. The 1986 World’s Fair in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada featured the theme “Transportation and Communication.” Though the province did not issue a base plate in conjunction with the event, it did give motorists a special registration sticker affixed to the 1979 and 1985 bases.