For starters, I just have to say that The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair And Its Legacy is an absolutely gorgeous book. For area residents such as myself, the book has an obvious appeal. But it is much more than simply a beautiful memento of a huge event in local history. Although the Cold War was in many ways at its “hottest” point in 1962, there was also an incredible sense of optimism about the future. The Century 21 Exposition (as the Fair was officially called) reflected this.
The most lasting monument to all that the Expo represented is The Space Needle. Long before Starbucks, Microsoft, or grunge, when most people thought about Seattle (if at all), it was the Space Needle that probably came to mind. As silly as it sounds, it is our Eiffel Tower — even if it does look like it was lifted straight out of The Jetsons.
Although The Future Remembered is an over-sized, coffee-table book, there is plenty of text, and the story of how the Seattle World’s Fair came to be is quite a tale. The initial impetus for it goes all the way back to 1955, with plans to celebrate the golden anniversary of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. It was to be a relatively small-scale “Festival of the West,” set to occur in 1959.
The world changed on October 4, 1957 with the Soviet’s launch of Sputnik. The sudden realization that the Cold War had entered a new and much more frightening phase was lost on nobody. The acronym MAD, which stood for "Mutually Assured Destruction" was appropriate, because that is where the world stood. While I in no way mean to minimize the very real casualties of war in Korea, Vietnam, and other disputed areas, a great deal of The Cold War was a war of propaganda as well. The Space Race was on.
The Seattle World's Fair went from being something of a celebration of the growth of the Western United States, to the Century 21 Exposition — where our dominance of all things “futuristic” was to be shown off. The project quickly grew into an opportunity to present the U.S. as the world’s leader in technology. With this new focus in mind, big Federal dollars started rolling in — and things that the city of Seattle itself would never have been able to fund alone, started to be considered.