Sunday, May 30, 2010

World's Fair Greyhound Tram (Arcade / 1939 / U.S. / 8 inches)

This one's for 1950s Atomic Ranch House, an excellent blogger -- with an excellent blog -- who likes to encourage my World's Fair addiction. Everyone check out her stuff!

If I had the opportunity, I'd love to visit the 1939 New York World's Fair. But since no one's invented a reliable time machine, I've instead decided to collect its memorabilia. And one of the best pieces in my small but growing collection is this die-cast metal tram made by Arcade.

Call 'em what you will: trams, people movers, trains, tuk-tuks -- whatever their name, I think they're great. Always have. There's just something fun about piling into the open-sided mini-buses and taking a tour through an amusement park or other weird tourist attraction. So of course, when I first saw one of these Arcade trams, I knew I had to have it.

It was last autumn at the big Morphy space toy auction in Adamstown, PA. I was exploring the shelves of toys, killing time, waiting for the robot I wanted to come up for bid, when I saw the World's Fair tram for the first time. I was blown away by the simple construction, the bold colors, the great Trylon and Perisphere logo. I knew I wanted one, but couldn't justify the expense. I only had one or two World's Fair items and this was a bit too far outside of my comfort zone.

But since then, I've picked up a number of interesting World's Fair knick-knacks, including a great squished penny that my girlfriend bought me for my birthday. (It'll be the subject of another post somewhere down the road). I decided that the time had come to add a really good, high-end anchor to the collection -- it was just the excuse I needed to get that tram!

The best part? I found mine on eBay for a fraction of Morphy's asking price. Score!

I have to admit, I don't know too much about this toy. I've seen one or two boxed examples, so I know it was sold with one front car and one passenger car. However, I've also seen an example -- loose -- with three passenger cars. I'm guessing it's legit and not something pieced together by a dealer or collector.

The main parts of the tram are made of painted, die-cast metal, while the awning is lithographed tin. The Trylon and Perisphere logo is a decal, while the words on the side of the front section are painted on. The wheels are rubber. The toy just rolls; there's no motorized mechanism. Fairly simple and straight forward, but that's part of why I like it so much.

So I can hear you asking: "What's so special about the 1939 World's Fair, Doc?" And I ask you, What's not special about this fair? First, there was one of its main themes: The World of Tomorrow. C'mon, if that doesn't have my name written all over it, I don't know what does! The World of Tomorrow!

And then there are the symbols of this bright, shiny future: The Trylon and Perisphere. Has there ever been such a perfect expression of optimism? Such geometric precision, like a city out of a science fiction story. The fact that the Trylon was also a radio tower, and the Perisphere held a giant theater, made them both even cooler!

In fact, the architecture throughout the '39 World's Fair was an explosion of deco and machine age forms and style. And inside those buildings... Oh man! Great displays by, among others, General Motors (with their Futurama exhibit), General Electric, AT&T, Ford, and Westinghouse -- the latter being home to the famous Westinghouse Robot! The fair marked the first appearance of color photography, nylon, air conditioning, fluorescent lighting, and... wait for it... View-Master! Everything about the World's Fair screamed "Buck Rogers is knocking! Let him in!" Just magnificent.

But there are other reasons I love this fair. It's in New York, and of course I've got soft spot for the the city. But more than that, it's got some interesting ties to science fiction. See, 1939 was an important year for science fiction, especially science fiction in NYC. Not only did fans have the World's Fair, which must have felt like traveling through time, but that year, the city hosted the first ever World Science Fiction Convention (a.k.a. Worldcon). That's huge!

On top of that, NYC had at least two significant fan organizations, including the legendary Futurians. John W. Campbell, Jr. had taken over Astounding Science Fiction two years earlier, and by 1939 had used it to thoroughly transform science fiction into something leaps and bounds ahead of the pulpy shenanigans of his forbearers. 1939 also saw the publication of the first two stories by Robert A. Heinlein, a man who would shape science fiction for decades to come. (Those two stories, by the way, were "Life-Line" and "Misfit.") To top it all off, Christmas of 1938 (leading into 1939) brought with it the sale of the first toy robot -- Lilliput -- and the fourth Buck Rogers gun, the XZ-38 Disintegrator.

So you can see why 1939 holds a special place in my heart, and why the World's Fair might be a fitting symbol of everything I'd love to see this world become. More posts on World's Fair memorabilia are definitely on the horizon.

Now, about that time machine...


  1. 1939 was also a golden year for Hollywood film making with such films as 'The Wizard of Oz', 'Gone With The Wind', 'The Women' and 'Wuthering Heights', to name just a few.

    Of all the Worlds Fairs, there really is something special about the 1939 fair. As you stated it's right on the edge of "The Future", when the future held hope and promise and exciting news things. Science and technology were cutting edge. Design was to die for. Streamline, aerodynamic and forward-thinking.

    And I know this song came out years later, but I always think of the song International Geophysical Year (IGY) by Donald Fagan when I think of 1939.

    His lyrics capture the wonderful essence of the time.

  2. Hey nice toy. The real thing is still running on the Wildwood New Jersey Boardwalk. They recently put out a
    plastic model of the tram car for under 20 dollars

  3. That's really cool. Thanks for the info.


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