The Quick 10: 10 World's Fairs

Forty-seven years ago today, the Century 21 Exposition opened its doors to the public. You're probably saying, "The what?" I would be, anyway, if I hadn't researched this - the Century 21 Exposition was also known as the Seattle World's Fair. So, in honor of the historic event that gave us the Space Needle, we're going to check out 10 notable World's Fairs today.

1. The 1962 Seattle World's Fair is why the Space Needle was built, obviously, but it's also notable for another reason "“ it's where the Elvis flick It Happened at the World's Fair was filmed and marked the screen debut of Kurt Russell. The Seattle Center Monorail was also created just for the Century 21 Exposition.

disney2. The 1964 World's Fair in New York was where Walt Disney tested his latest creation out on the public "“ a little boat ride filled with animatronic dolls singing in various languages. I bet you know what I'm talking about, but I'll refrain from mentioning it by name lest you get the infernal tune stuck in your head for the rest of the day. But that's not all "“ this was also the Fair with "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," which featured a speech-giving Honest Abe so real you'd almost swear it was him. A version of the attraction popped up at Disneyland and has been there in some form or another ever since. Well, almost ever since. It has been replaced a time or two with different attractions such as "The Walt Disney Story," but the public rallied to get Mr. Lincoln back and Disney listened. Abe is on vacation right now, letting "Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years" lease out his Disneyland condo, but he'll be back in September of this year.

3. The Panama-Pacific International Exposition was held in San Francisco in 1915. There were a couple of reasons to celebrate: the Panama Canal had recently been completed, but the city had been devastated by an earthquake nine years earlier and wanted to show how it had successfully rebounded. Exhibits included a telephone line that went from New York to San Francisco so people on the east coast could hear the Pacific Ocean. And the Liberty Bell was packed up from its resting place in Pennsylvania and shipped over to California just to make a special guest appearance at the International Exposition. It was sent back to Philly afterward and hasn't budged since. Like Seattle, this Fair was also the subject of a film: Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World's Fair at San Francisco. It starred Mabel Normand and Fatty Arbuckle seeing the sights and clowning around.

music4. The Pan-American Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo, N.Y., was notable for not for its amazing inventions and innovations, but because it was the site of the shooting of President William McKinley. Leon Czolgosz met McKinley in the Temple of Music (pictured), where the President was shaking hands with the public. An X-Ray machine that would have located the bullet lodged somewhere in McKinley's back muscles was on display at the Fair, but it had only just been invented and doctors were scared to use it on the President without knowing its side effects. Any of them would surely have been better than his resulting death, but I guess hindsight is 20/20.
5. Expo '70, a World's Fair in Osaka, Japan, was one of the biggest and most successful World's Fairs ever held. One of the most popular exhibits on display was a moon rock brought back just months before from the 1969 Apollo 11 expedition. Expo '70 also touted the first IMAX movie ever created.

6. Much like the 1915 San Francisco Fair, the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 was held in Chicago because the city had something to prove: that Mrs. O'Leary's cow couldn't keep them down. The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the same guy who did Central Park (and lots of other parks and campuses). The layout and the building design were so impressive and gorgeous that it's thought L. Frank Baum used it as inspiration for the Emerald City. It was also the first time people saw and rode on a Ferris Wheel and included exhibits by Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. John Phillip Sousa's marching band was a daily feature. Food that debuted at this particular Fair included Cracker Jack, Juicy Fruit gum and Cream of Wheat. It would have a been an awesomely successful Fair if it hadn't ended in tragedy "“ Chicago mayor Carter Harrison was assassinated. Although it was in his home and not at the Fair, he was a much-beloved mayor and his death shook up Chicagoans pretty badly.

eiffel7. Just as the Seattle World's Fair gave us the Space Needle, Paris' Exposition Universelle of 1889 gave us the Eiffel Tower. If you were there in 1889, you also would have seen Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show featuring Annie Oakley.
8. Just 11 years later, the Exposition Universelle came back to Paris and the city really put on the dog. The buildings erected for the expo were so impressive and beautiful that many of them still stand today "“ the Musée d'Orsay, the Grand Palais, the Gare de Lyon and the Petit Palais among them. The Summer Olympics were also being held at the same time and were considered part of the Fair, just in case the new inventions of escalators and movies with sound weren't enough for you. And if you've ever noticed the gold seal that adorns the front of Campbell's soup cans, here's a bit of trivia for you: it was awarded this seal at this particular World's Fair.

palace9. On May 1, 1851, Queen Victoria proudly announced the opening of the Great Exhibition in London. Art and architecture students will know this for the construction of the Crystal Palace (you can tell I'm a student of neither because my first thought is of the buffet at the Magic Kingdom). The Crystal Palace housed the Great Exhibition and its designer was later knighted for his amazing contribution. Sadly, the Crystal Palace was the victim of fire in 1936. This Fair was wildly successful, perhaps in part to the Palace. More than six million people showed up, which was about a third of Britain's population at the time. It was so profitable that the surplus went to found the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. Notable events included a yachting race that eventually evolved into the America's Cup, the display of the Koh-i-noor Diamond and the exhibition showing the Jacquard Loom.

rubik10. Knoxville, Tenn., was home to the 1982 World's Fair, which turned a profit of a whopping $57. But hey, most World's Fairs lose money, so at least they had that going for them. It's notable for debuting inventions such as Cherry Coke, boxed milk and touch-screen technology, but what I'm particularly excited about is the giant, rotating Rubik's Cube Hungary sent over. The puzzle toy had swept the nation and Hungary was proud that the inventor was one of their own. After decaying for the past 25 years, a junior in engineering at the University of Tennessee took its restoration on as a project. The 10-foot, 1,200-pound toy is now restored to its former glory for tourists to enjoy. The Knoxville Fair was also home to the Sunsphere, which Simpsons fans will remember from the episode where Bart, Martin, Nelson and Milhouse rely on an outdated guidebook for vacation tips and choose the World's Fair instead of Disneyworld. Photo from Joel K. on Roadside America.

Have any of you actually been to a World's Fair? I feel like I kind of missed their heyday and I'm a little bummed about it, so it would be great if I could just live vicariously through you.

job secrets
10 Secrets of Hotel Room Service

Guests visiting New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930s enjoyed an amenity that was unheard of at the time: waiters delivering meals directly to their rooms. While the Astoria’s reputation for luxury has endured, room service is no longer exclusive to five-star stays. Roughly 22 percent of the country’s 54,000 hotels [PDF] are willing and able to bring breakfast, lunch, or dinner to people who prefer to eat while splayed out on a large and strange bed.

To get the scoop on what goes into getting food from the kitchen to your floor, Mental Floss spoke with Matt, a hospitality specialist who spent a total of 10 years working in and around room service for a major San Francisco hotel. Matt preferred not to use his last name; since his stories sometimes involved naked people, undercooked chicken, and Oprah, you can understand why. Below, check out a few things you should know before you dig into that tray.


When a room service delivery employee takes a tray from the kitchen to your room, it’s typically covered in a metal lid to retain heat and to prevent other guests from sneezing on it. The higher up you are, the longer it has to travel—and the more that lid traps steam, soaking your food in moisture. “Food sweats in there,” Matt says. “Instead of having crispy, toasted bread, you get wet toast. The longer it stays in there, the worse it gets.” If you want crunchy fries, you’d better be on the first couple of floors.


A seafood dinner is presented on a plate

That lid is a nuisance in other ways. Because it traps heat, it’s effectively cooking your food in the time it takes to get from the chef’s hands to yours. “If you order a steak medium, it will probably be medium well by the time it gets to you,” Matt says. While you can try to outsmart the lid by requesting meat be cooked a notch lower than your preference, it's not so easy to avoid overcooked fish—which will probably also stink up your room. Instead, stick with burgers, club sandwiches, or salads. According to Matt, it’s hard to mess any of them up.


Just because you see a menu in your room, it doesn’t mean the hotel has a kitchen or chef on-site. To cut costs, more hotels are opting to out-source their room service to local eateries. “It might be ‘presented’ by the hotel, but it’s from a restaurant down the street,” Matt says. Alternately, hotels might try to save money by eliminating an overnight chef and having food pre-prepped so a desk clerk or other employee can just heat it up. That’s more likely if sandwiches or salads are the only thing available after certain hours.


Two coffee cups sit on a hotel bed

No, not for the reason you’re thinking. Because so many hotel guests are business travelers who are away from home for weeks or months at a time, some of them get tired of eating alone. When that happens, they turn to the first—and maybe only—person who could offer company: the room service waiter. “People are usually traveling alone, so they’ll offer you food,” Matt explains. Sometimes the traveler is a familiar face: According to Matt, he once sat down to eat with Oprah Winfrey, who was eating by herself despite her suite being filled with her own employees. He also says he had a bite with John F. Kennedy Junior, who wanted to finish watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High before heading for his limo.


Busy hotel kitchens aren’t always paying attention to whether the chicken wings they buy in bulk are frozen raw, frozen cooked, or somewhere in between. “Ask for them extra crispy,” Matt says. That way, they’ll be cooked thoroughly regardless of their freezer status. “I recommend that to everyone.”


A hotel guest pours milk into a bowl of cereal

Breakfast is undoubtedly the busiest time for room service, and those little cards that allow you to check off your menu items the night before are a huge help. “It’s great for everybody involved,” Matt says. “The kitchen can pace themselves and you can get your food on time.”


Yes, guests answer the door barely clothed. No, this is not optimal. “We don’t want to see it,” Matt says. “It's something we dealt with numerous times.” While it's likely your waiter will use discretion, any combination of genitalia, drugs, or illicit activity is best kept out of their sight.


A hotel room service tray sits in a hallway

That move where you stick your soggy fries outside your door? It can lead to some awkward encounters. Matt says he’s seen other guests stop, examine trays, and then pick up discarded food from them. Other times, people leave unimaginably gross items on the trays. “I’ve found condoms on there. Divorce paperwork. All kinds of things.”


Weird people aside, “We don’t really want it out there,” Matt says. “It stinks.” Instead, dial 0 for the front desk and let them know you’re done eating. They’ll dispatch someone to come and get it.


A tip is placed near a hotel check

People pay out the nose for room service, with hotels adding surcharges for “service” and “in-room” dining that can turn a $5 club sandwich into a $15 expense. That’s not great news for guests, but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about not offering a cash tip. Those service fees usually go straight to the employees who got your food to your room. “I never tip,” Matt says. “Most of the time, the service and delivery charges are given to the waiter or split between the people who answered the phone and pick up the tray. It’s better to leave it all on paper to make sure it gets divided up.”

Big Questions
What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding for the first time this year on Friday, March 23. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?


Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.


Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the Sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the Sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the Sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the Sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This story originally ran in 2017.


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