1939 New York World’s Fair Photograph Collection

C1: 001
ca. 1939
211 albums, many in duplicate and some in triplicate, 3,031 unique images

C1:001 1939 New York World’s Fair Photograph Collection.

Touted as the largest and most magnificent exposition of all time, the New York World’s Fair opened at Flushing Meadow in April 1939. In the Court of States, one exhibition was strikingly different from the rest: the Virginia Room, “an island of quiet” amid the fair’s raucous and more sensational attractions. Leslie Cheek, Jr., designer of the Virginia Room, and his team of artists developed a plan for a spacious circular lounge with the visitor’s focus drawn to an ornamental fountain theatrically lit from above and below. Around the fountain’s statue—an allegorical representation of the “Spirit of Virginia” drawing water from the clouds—were clipped boxwoods and a series of deep cushioned seats and low tables. Cheek remarked that a visitor to the Virginia Room should find “an intelligently arranged display, free of ballyhoo and high pressure salesmanship.” The design offered tired fairgoers a place to sit, a chance to enjoy a complimentary glass of ice water served by a white-jacketed waiter, and an array of large photograph albums prepared by the Virginia State Chamber of Commerce.

Taken together, the Virginia Room albums can be thought of as a sprawling infomercial for the state, promoting it as a place not just of historic shrines and natural beauty, but as one of scientific, artistic, and intellectual sophistication, a modern state of concrete highways and Negro colleges, world-class museums and business-friendly public policies. Each album features an average of twenty-five black-and-white photos, with short descriptive captions, and covers one of twelve broad subject categories: agriculture; colonial archaeology; cultural and intellectual aspects; education; government and the people; historic homes; history; industry, commerce, and transportation; physiography; recreation; scenery and natural wonders; and Virginia tours, with from six to sixteen volumes devoted to each.

When the World’s Fair closed, it was estimated that well over a million people had visited the Virginia Room and viewed its photograph collection.

Arrangement and access:
The entire collection is available for online research via DigiTool.

Gift of Virginia Conservation Commission, 1943

Mary Tyler Cheek, “An Island of Quiet in an Ocean of Noise,” Virginia Cavalcade, Summer 1984
Edward Campbell, “Fair Shadows,” Virginia Cavalcade, Summer 1991

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