On December 9, 1936, the U.S. Embassy in Berlin sent the first official invitation to Germany to participate in the Fair.    More information

On March 4, 1937, the New York Herald Tribune was one of many papers quoting La Guardia’s comments against Hitler.    More information

The German government promptly lodged a complaint with the State Department and asked that La Guardia apologize.   More information

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Satirical cartoons appeared throughout the New York papers, including the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Daily Worker.    More information

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The Board of Trade for German American Commerce sent notice that the incident was jeopardizing German participation.    More information

The New York Times quoted the German press, "directed by Dr. Goebbels," calling La Guardia “New York’s gangster-in-chief.”   More information

Billy Rose, already in negotiations for other pavilions, submitted an application for a "Chamber of Horrors” exhibit.    More information

John Hartigan, Fair Commissioner, heard whispers indicating German participation was favorable.    More information

Members of the German government communicated that Hitler was not yet satisfied with the German Pavilion location.    More information

This sketch proposed that the German Pavilion about Yugoslavia’s building.    More information

The State Department confirmed Germany’s intention to participate on January 10, 1938.    More information

Hartigan attributed the delay in the “German situation” to the impending Austrian and German elections.    More information

By April 25, Hartigan had decided to play a hard hand with the Germans — setting a deadline for the next day.    More information

The Germans responded immediately, “it has been impossible to work out a plan for Germany’s participation.”   More information

After Germany canceled plans for a pavilion, any kind of participation was up to the Ministry of Propaganda.   More information

Hitler’s presence could still be felt at the Fair, particularly as the fates of other national pavilions played out.    More information

"The German Situation"


Negotiations Begin

“Entirely in the Hands of Mr. Hitler”

An Impossible Plan

A Ghostly Presence

In November 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt responded to a resolution of Congress and invited nations of the world to participate in the New York World’s Fair. Soon after, Fair President Grover Whalen began traveling across the world gathering commitments from an unprecedented number of foreign governments. The negotiation with Germany proved particularly difficult, especially after Mayor of New York Fiorello La Guardia “tilted a lance at Hitler” in 1937 by suggesting in front of 1000 people that the Fair should have a “Chamber of Horrors” in which Adolf Hitler would be the principle exhibit.

Despite the fact that La Guardia refused to apologize, by November 1937 negotiations appeared to remain underway. One memo reports that “through Italian sources not connected with" the Fair, assurances were made that the Germans intended to participate. The final decision, however, remained in the hands of Hitler, who was not satisfied with the location of the proposed German Pavilion.

Even after Germany officially accepted the invitation to participate in the Fair in January 1938, the negotiation dance continued. Through the spring, Germany waffled. In April, Fair Commissioner John Hartigan communicated that the decision was still ultimately up to the Führer, who was too busy with the German and Austrian elections to decide. By the end of April, Hartigan telegrammed his contact in Germany, Dr. E. W. Maiwald, asserting that April 26 was the last day that the Fair could continue to hold German space. On that day, Maiwald responded to administrative assistant Julius Holmes, “Even after all our efforts and after hoping up to the last moment it has not been possible to arrange an official participation of Germany in the New York World’s Fair.” Though Maiwald thanked numerous members of the organization, Hartigan’s name was never included.

Even though Germany would not have a pavilion, Hartigan continued attempts to involve the country in other ways. The question of Germany’s activities at the Fair had been transferred from the German Ministry of Commerce to the Ministry of Propaganda and, in May, Fritz Mahlo — an “important person in Dr. Goebbel’s Ministry” — visited the site to discuss the potential for German and Austrian musical performances at the Fair. Ultimately, these activities, like the German Pavilion, never materialized.
While not an official participant in the Fair, Germany's presence, or lack thereof, continued to shape the Fair organization and politics. Throughout 1939, multiple nations’ pavilions ran into problems when their sponsoring countries were invaded, or annexed, by Hitler’s empire.


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