1939: Grover Whalen

The son of an Irish-American Democrat, Grover Whalen devoted his life to the service of the City of New York. By the 1930s, Whalen had served as the Commissioner of Plants and Structures as well as Police Commissioner, and had held a number of corporate executive posts. Whalen also founded WYNC, one of the first public radio stations in the United Statesand popularized the Ticker-Tape parade to celebrate veterans and other national notables.

Grover Whalen signing a fair contract with a Liberian delegate circa 1938

Grover Whalen signing a fair contract with a Liberian delegate circa 1938

Most importantly for the success of the fair, though, Whalen served as Chairman of the Mayor’s Committee on Receptions to Distinguished Guests. In this capacity, Whalen officially welcomed prominent celebrities to New York, even including royalty. In greeting the city’s most prominent guests, Whalen became the face of New York.

Whalen’s social prominence, coupled with his demonstrated executive ability, made him the ideal candidate as President of the New York Worlds Fair Corporation. Whalen lent not only his familiar face and warm personality to the fair, but he also used his experience in welcoming distinguished guests to woo potential exhibitor nations, corporations, and individuals. In fact, he spent much of his time visiting countries and companies to persuade them to exhibit at the fair. In all, Whalen attracted participation from sixty nations and thirty-three territories and states. He also played a key role in securing the Flushing Meadows site from Parks Commissioner, Planning Committee member, and 1964 World’s fair president, Robert Moses.

Next Page