The construction site of the USSR Pavilion, outside the Lagoon of Nations.   More information

The Soviet statue of "Joe the Worker" was an instant point of controversy.   More information

Visitors enter the completed USSR Building during the 1939 season.    More information

"Joe the Worker" held a bright red star in his outstretched hand.    More information

A crowd assembles for the opening of the USSR Pavilion.    More information

A Soviet-made automobile on display inside the entrance hall of the USSR exhibit.   More information

Several works of art lived beneath "Joe the Worker" outside the USSR Pavilion, including a bas-relief of Lenin.    More information

H. Earl Hoover's color film captures the red star held by "Joe the Worker" at the USSR Pavilion.

Valery Chkalov’s famous transpolar plane lived outside the entrance to the Arctic Pavilion.    More information

The tail of the transpolar plane, with a canine fan.    More information

A crowd enters the USSR Pavilion on a busy summer day in 1939.    More information

Snow bedecks the Soviet Pavilion as it is dismantled.    More information

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Over the fence goes the dismantled Soviet transpolar plane. The wings were removed and transported separately.    More information

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Decapitated! The five-ton head of "Joe the Worker" is severed from the body in the process of dismantling the structure.    More information

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"Joe the Worker," headless.   More information

This big fellow stepping in the direction of Moscow was not “Joe,” but part of a statue from the front of the pavilion.   More information

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The huge plaque of Lenin is removed from the Soviet Pavilion.   More information

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The Rise and Fall of "Joe the Worker"


The "Symbol of Communism" at the USSR Pavilion

Statues of Polished Red Granite

Transpolar Displays

"Stepping in the Direction of Moscow"

Grover Whalen, in his courting of foreign nations to participate in the Fair, scored a significant coup when he secured a pledge from Stalin that the Soviet Union would construct a $4 million pavilion.
However, the USSR Pavilion would not remain a triumph for long in many people's eyes. While this imposing pavilion would earn revenue for the Fair, it provoked the displeasure of members of the public who considered the dominant structure to be a political taunt. Controversy erupted in the papers and among potential patrons as the Soviets built their pavilion — which featured, before the entrance, a towering, 79-foot-tall, stainless steel statue of "Joe the Worker" mounted on a 188-foot pedestal, holding an illuminated red star, "the symbol of communism." According the Fair's PR office, Joe's outstretched hand "could be seen for miles."
Complaints were lodged that the statue threatened to exceed the height of the American flag that flew over the fairgrounds. The Fair raised the height of the flag, but the criticisms continued. One patron, after his visit, was incensed enough to suggest that the pavilion was "the reason why attendance is falling" at the Fair.

Despite murmurs of outrage that continued throughout the 1939 season, the USSR Pavilion still proved to be a popular destination for Fair visitors. According to a memo provided by the USSR in preparation for the exhibit, once inside the building patrons would see detailed exhibits about the country, including paintings of the revolution such as Firing Among the Demonstration at the Winter Palace in 1905; "statues of polished red granite on marble pedestals of Lenin and Stalin"; information about the Republic, such as a detailed structure of the government and how class breakdowns of the country changed between 1913 and 1937; a mural of the Ilyich collective farm; paintings, sculptures, carpets, and wood inlay made by schoolchildren; photos of the "peach-plum" developed by crossing varieties of plants; film of the revolution; and even a Soviet-manufactured automobile.

Next door, the Arctic Pavilion was devoted to "Soviet achievements in the Arctic," including the "conspicuous exhibit" of the airplane in which Valery Chkalov made the first transpolar flight, from Moscow to Vancouver, Washington. On September 3, 1939, a "record-breaking day in attendance," the Soviet Pavilion was touted by the PR Office as one of the more popular exhibits.
However, the status of the pavilion would soon come into question. Exactly two weeks later, the Soviet Union launched an invasion of Poland.

Not surprisingly, between the 1939 and 1940 seasons, the areas around the Lagoon of Nations saw several dramatic shifts — perhaps none more noticeable than the disappearance of the USSR Pavilion and its towering "Joe the Worker."
In a memo from the State Department on November 29, 1939, F. B. Lyon in the Division of International Conferences wrote, "We have received a telegram from the American Embassy in Moscow, which states that 'the Government of the Soviet Union does not intend to participate in the NY World's Fair of 1940.'" The Soviets were, at the time of that memo, staging an invasion of Finland.
So, during the snowy early months of 1940, Stalin's bust was taken down, the transpolar plane dismantled, and Joe was taken apart — piece by piece — and loaded onto a ship headed back to the Soviet Union to be reconstructed. The rest of the building was dismantled, its site to be taken over by a space called the "American Common” during the 1940 season. During this time cooperation between Germany and the USSR would begin to deteriorate and the two countries would march steadily towards their own war.


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