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TABLE OF CONTENTS


Descriptive Summary

Historical/Biographical Note

Scope and Content Note

Arrangement

Administrative Information

Access Points

Inventory

Guide to the J. William Sawyer 1939 World’s Fair Photographs
1939
Control # S-36

Finding Aid prepared by: Milbrodt, Natalie

Archives at Queens Library
Queens Borough Public Library
89-11 Merrick Boulevard
Jamaica, NY 11432
Phone: (718) 990-0770


Descriptive Summary

Creator Sawyer, J. William, 1906-1995
Title J. William Sawyer 1939 World’s Fair Photographs,
Dates: 1939
Abstract: The J. William Sawyer 1939 World’s Fair Photographs (2 boxes, 1939) consists of 46 color photographs of the New York World’s Fair (1939-1940). They are 35mm glass slides that have been made into 4x5 inch prints as well as TIFF files stored on compact disks. Color slide photography from this period is rare, making this a valuable collection based on its subject matter and its medium. Mr. Sawyer photographed exhibits and scenery in a total of 6 “Zones”, Amusement, Communications and Business Systems, Food, Government, Production and Distribution, and Transportation. Highlights include photographs the live show at the Billy Rose Aquacade and an evening fountain and firework display. Mr. Sawyer also captured indoor exhibits such as General Electric’s man-made lightning show in Steinmetz Hall. He and the two women and one man with him that day also visited the trains that were part of the track exhibits hosted by the Eastern Railroads Presidents’ Conference. Images of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Pavilion in the Government Zone, place their visit in 1939, as that pavilion was removed for the 1940 season.
Extent: 2 boxes, 0.2 cubic feet
Identification: S-36
Location: The material is located in the Archives at Queens Library.

Historical/Biographical Note

The J. William Sawyer 1939 World’s Fair Photographs were donated to the Archives at Queens Library by the City of Mesa Library (Arizona) in 2004. According to the Social Security Death Index, there was a J. William Sawyer who died September 4, 1995 in Mesa, Arizona. He was born on March 27th, 1906 and his social security number (117-16-4477) was issued in New York State.

Tracing that information back through U.S. Census records from 1910 and 1930, there is a William J. Sawyer, who was born in 1906 to parents Herman and “Irline” (1910), later “Irene” (1930) Sawyer in Mechanicville, Saratoga, New York. J. William had a sister named Gertrude Sawyer who was born in 1911. At the time of the 1930 census, William J. was listed as 24 years old. No occupation was recorded beside his name and he was unmarried. The family’s house number was listed as “415” and their rent was $20 per month.

In this same 1930 census record, J. William’s father, Herman Sawyer, was listed as an air brakeman in the railroad industry. Mechanicville City Historian, Dr. Paul Loatman Jr. writes that the city was a major hub of railroad activity by the end of the 19th century (http://www.mechanicville.com/history/articles/Railroad%20I.htm).

Mr. Sawyer would have been 33 years old when he visited the 1939 World’s Fair with the three companions who appear in his photographs. A check in the New York City telephone directories for Queens from the winter of 1938 through the winter of 1940 revealed that Mr. Sawyer was not listed. The fair welcomed over 44 million visitors in the two seasons it was open. It is not surprising that Mr. Sawyer would have made the trip from Mechanicville to see it too.

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Scope and Content Note

The J. William Sawyer 1939 World’s Fair Photographs (2 boxes, 1939) consists of 46 color photographs of the New York World’s Fair (1939-1940). They are 35mm glass slides that have been made into 4x5 inch prints as well as TIFF files stored on compact discs. Color slide photography from this period is rare, making this a valuable collection based on its subject matter and its medium. Mr. Sawyer photographed exhibits and scenery in a total of 4 “Zones”, Amusement, Government, Production and Distribution, and Transportation. Highlights include photographs the live show at the Billy Rose Aquacade and an evening fountain and firework display. Mr. Sawyer also captured indoor exhibits such as General Electric’s man-made lightning show in Steinmetz Hall. He and the two women and one man with him that day also visited the trains that were part of the track exhibits hosted by the Eastern Railroads Presidents’ Conference. Images of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Pavilion in the Government Zone, place their visit in 1939, as that pavilion was removed for the 1940 season.

The fair was divided into themed areas called “zones.” Mr. Sawyer photographed exhibits and scenery in a total of 4 zones: Amusement, Government, Production and Distribution, and Transportation.

In the Amusement Area, Mr. Sawyer captured a live show at Billy Rose’s Aquacade.

He took one image of a painting: Frank Salisbury's "The Coronation of King George VI 1937” that was on display in the British Pavilion.

There is also an exterior shot of a Wards Mayflower Donuts Restaurant with the Maxwell House Coffee name on the exterior of the building in the Amusement Zone.

There is one photo of the I.R.T. and B.M.T Subway Gate and one photo of the World’s Fair Blvd. Gate.

The majority of Mr. Sawyer’s photos were taken in the Government Zone. They include three images of the Constitutional Mall including two of the George Washington sculpture. There are three daytime and eight nighttime images from the Lagoon of Nations. At night there was a fountain display that featured colored lights in the water and fireworks. The nations and states represented in the pavilions Mr. Sawyer photographed include Italy (5 images), Romania (2 images), USSR (2 images), France (1 image), Florida (4 images), and Pennsylvania (1 image).

Most of the photos feature buildings and landscapes, but Mr. Sawyer did focus his lens on people for a few. Mr. Sawyer took two self-portraits in a large (unidentified) reflective surface. Two women and another man appear repeatedly in various settings: onboard trains that were part of the track exhibits at the Eastern Railroads Presidents’ Conference (2 images), in the Florida Pavilion (1 image), one with a view of the Hall of Pharmacy, and two with the iconic Trylon, and Perisphere in the background.

There are seven images from General Electric’s pavilion in the Production and Distribution Zone including three images of lighting from the man-made lightning show in GE’s Steinmetz Hall.

There is also a daytime shot of Consolidated Edison’s Water Ballet fountains outside their building, taken from the Plaza of Light toward the Court of Power.   

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Arrangement

Physically, the glass slides are now housed in box N272 and the compact disks and photographic prints produced by Chicago Albumen Works are housed in box P147. They are arranged by the original order Mr. Sawyer (presumably) gave them in hand-numbered labels on the slides. Gaps exist in the numbering sequence and in a few instances; photos that appear to be taken within moments of one another are a distance from each other in the numbering scheme. The majority of the images, however, appear to be arranged in the order they were taken on a single day’s visit to the Fair. The prints and slides are thusly arranged in the same numeric order. The numbers on the labels have been used as the last digits of a nine-character standard scheme, “JWS-000000.” A slide with a label numbered, “34” would be, “JWS-000034,” for example.

The prints and slides are ordered (separately) by control number. The compact disks are in the volume order assigned to them by Chicago Albumen Works, Inc.

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Creator of item, date of item (if known), identification of item, if a photograph its control number. The J. William Sawyer 1939 World’s Fair Photographs, Archives at Queens Library, Queens Borough Public Library.

Provenance

The forty-six glass slides were donated by the Mesa Public Library in Arizona to the Archives at Queens Library in June of 2004. In 2006, the Archives at Queens Library sent the glass slides to Chicago Albumen Works, Inc. (174 Front Street, Housatonic, MA 01236) for digital migration to TIFF format files on compact disks and the production of 4 x 5 inch color prints.

Access Restrictions

Open for research without restrictions. Manuscripts are only available in the Archives at Queens Library, please call (718) 990-0770 for hours. Manuscript users will be required to complete the division's Manuscript Usage Form and deposit their photograph identification or Queens Borough Public Library card with a staff member. The identification will be returned to the user after she/he has returned the material. Manuscript users will deposit all their personal items behind the reference desk. Manuscript users must use the division's loose sheets of paper for note taking. To reiterate, no pen of any type is permitted. Paper and a pencil are available upon request. Manuscript users may be required to use special handling procedures depending on the conditions of the material.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish materials must be obtained in writing from the:

Archives at Queens Library
Queens Borough Public Library
89-11 Merrick Boulevard
Jamaica, NY 11432
Phone: (718) 990-0770.

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Access Points

Subject Organizations:

  • General Electric Company
  • Maxwell House Coffee Company
  • National Cash Register Company
  • New York World's Fair (1939-1940 : New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics:

  • Fireworks
  • Fountains
  • Lightning
  • Outdoor recreation
  • Railroad trains

Subject Places:

  • Florida
  • Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (New York, N.Y.)
  • France
  • Italy
  • New York (N.Y.)
  • Pennsylvania
  • Romania
  • Soviet Union

Document Types:

  • Compact discs
  • Photographs

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Inventory

[The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.]

Glass slides JWS-000085 to JWS-000289 ( 1939, 46 color images)
Box - Folder: N272

Prints, JWS-000085 to JWS-000289 ( 2006, 46 color images)
Box - Folder: P147

TIFF files, 0085 to 0289 ( 2006, (46 color images on 4 cds)
Box - Folder: P147

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