1964: Robert Moses

Robert Moses stands as one of the single most significant figures in New York City history. Known as the “Master Builder” Moses began his career in city planning in the early 1930s. He is best known for his time as the NYC Parks Commissioner and later as the Chairman of the Triborough Bridge Authority, where he wielded near total power over the city’s housing and transit agencies. Moses is known for his headstrong demeanor and singular focus on completing public projects, regardless of their impact on existing communities.

Moses with a Model of the never built Battery Bridge In 1939.

Moses with a Model of the proposed Battery Bridge In 1939. Library of Congress.

Moses used this singular focus to move forward with the 1964 World’s Fair despite significant obstacles. For example, the Bureau of International Exhibitions (BIE), or the governing body responsible for officially sanctioning an event as a world’s fair, had a rule that no nation could hold a world’s fair twice in one decade. This was a problem for planners as Seattle had already planned a BIE sanctioned fair for 1962. Despite Moses’ best efforts to win the BIE’s sanction, he was unable to secure their blessing. But this would not be a problem for the master builder.

Because the New York Fair was unsanctioned, many foreign countries chose not to participate. In Moses’ mind, this simply left more space for commercial exhibitors and more potential rent money. These types of money-first decisions characterized the Moses-dominated planning committee.

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