Never-before-seen image of JFK's motorcade through Seattle World's Fair

Crosscut archive image.

George Gulacsik, who photographed President Kennedy, perched on the Space Needle.

In 1962, Seattle hosted a world's fair, the future-looking Century 21 Exposition. The idea was to put Seattle on the map as a launching point for the Space Age. Its legacy was the cultural cluster we call Seattle Center and permanent infrastructure such as the Space Needle, the Monorail, Pacific Science Center and Key Arena.

One of the great disappointments of the fair's organizers was that President John F. Kennedy never visited the actual fair. Many political big-wigs did, including Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and brother Bobby Kennedy and his entire brood. But not JFK.

President Kennedy was slated to open the Century 21 Exposition in April of 1962, but ended up doing so remotely by telephone from Pam Beach, Florida, using sound waves from a remote star and a historic telegraph key. Kennedy said he hoped the fair would usher in a new era of “peace and understanding of all mankind.”

It had been hoped that the president would be there in person, especially since the fair, launched by President Dwight Eisenhower and the post-Sputnik space race of the late '50s, embodied JFK’s embrace of the Space Age and his New Frontier politics. It was in May of 1961 that Kennedy pledged to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. The White House promised the president would return for the fair’s closing in October but he could not: the Cuban Missile crisis kept him away.

But Kennedy did briefly visit the fairgrounds during construction of the fair, an event sometimes mentioned, but not seen in the photographic record of the newspapers, books and accounts of the fair’s history.

Until now.

Crosscut archive image.

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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.