In Brussels, Belgium, the first world’s fair held since before World War II closes its doors, after nearly 42 million people have visited the various exhibits. Officially called the Brussels Universal and International Exhibition, the fair’s overall theme was “A World View, A New Humanism.” As such, the fair was supposed to celebrate the universality of the human condition and encourage dialogue and peaceful relations among the nations of a world only recently torn asunder by war, and now caught in the clutches of the Cold War.
Officials in the United States, however, saw the fair as something quite different: An opportunity to promote America’s particular “world view,” and to meet the Soviets head-on in the continuing propaganda battle for the “hearts and minds” of the world’s people. The fair, therefore, became a showplace for the American and Soviet ways of life, and their exhibition halls became the headquarters for this battle. The adversarial context was accentuated by the fact that the U.S. and Soviet exhibition halls were located directly across from one another.The Soviet exhibit centered on the technological and scientific accomplishments of the communist state. A replica of Sputnik I, the unmanned satellite put into orbit by the Soviets in 1957, was the centerpiece of the imposing exhibition hall. The United States decided on a different tack, and focused on the everyday life of Americans. Mock voting booths were set up; beautiful women showed off the latest fashions; home furnishings and appliances were in abundance; and a typical American “Main Street” was constructed. It probably came as something of a shock to both U.S. and Soviet officials when Czechoslovakia won first place for best exhibition hall.