World's Fair of 1958


World's Fair of 1958
   The World's Fair of 1958 was the first major world's fair of the post-World War II years and the first since the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. In keeping with earlier Belgian expositions, it was intended to highlight and promote economic growth in Belgium and its overseas territories. At the same time, the fair had as its overarching theme the beneficial use of the power released by the atom. However, postwar global political realities overshadowed much of the fair's intended purposes. As a venue where contrasting visions of capitalist and communist systems were showcased, it became a world stage on which cold war rivalries were manifested.
   The Exposition universelle et internationale de Bruxelles was first proposed in 1947, and promoters, including Belgian mining and metallurgy firms, had set 1955 as the year the fair would be held. However, the Korean War (1950-1953) disrupted global financial markets and raised international political tensions, which forced a postponement.
   Financed by the Belgian government and various corporations, the exposition was supervised by a standard organizing entity with a director general and commissioner general. The 1935 fairgrounds at Heysel were chosen as the site and adjacent land from the royal park at Laeken was acquired to enlarge the area by almost 50 percent. Situated on nearly 1,200 ha (3,000 acres) of rolling parkland, the fair included a one-third mile long concrete viaduct to carry passengers from the edge of the park to the center of the grounds. An overhead cable car system and motorized ground transportation vehicles connected the venues.
   The fair opened on 17 April 1958. Its centerpoint, situated at the crossroads of four major arterial avenues, was the Atomium sphere, the fair's symbol that afforded commanding views of the grounds and the city of Brussels beyond. The fair's exhibits were arranged in three main sections—Belgium and the Belgian Congo, foreign nations, and an amusement area. Ten gates gave access to the fair. A Hall of International Science housed exhibits that promoted the benefits of theoretical research and international cooperation in scientific study. Science was omnipresent. In the electrical energy pavilion a consortium of Belgian industries displayed models of nuclear reactors, and the Soviet Union exhibited Sputnik. Optimism reigned at the fair. The virtues of Belgian colonial rule were touted, and exhibitors stressed the need to direct technology toward peaceful uses.
   Exhibition halls displayed an array of modernist styles following no rigid formulas. There were 39 official foreign participants, including Vatican City, the first time the city-state entered a world's fair. The United States and the Soviet Union vied with each other in proclaiming the virtues of their respective social and economic systems. Located diagonally across from each other, the pavilion of the former featured modern art and American daily life displays while the latter was filled with technical and industrial exhibits.
   Amusements included a reproduction of a typical Belgian village at the turn of the 20th century, Walt Disney's Circarama, and an interplanetary rocket journey in the Jardin des Attractions that transported riders on a trip to Mars.
   Construction of the fairgrounds and infrastructure provided significant employment for idle metropolitan workers. The city gained 48 km (30 mi.) of new roadways and 8 km (5 mi.) of tunnels as well as added parkland. The Atomium became a permanent addition to the city's skyline, an enduring symbol of Brussels, and a lasting reminder of the fair. Many prefabricated buildings were disassembled and reconstructed as permanent structures elsewhere in Belgium and Europe.
   The 1958 exhibition closed on 19 October after having drawn nearly 42 million visitors.

Historical Dictionary of Brussels. .

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