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Treasures of the Archives: “Living in the Space Age: The Century 21 Exposition and the Space Needle”

The Space Needle and the Alweg Monorail were symbols of modernity and “the Space Age.” Seattle Monorail and the Seattle Space Needle, 1964, General Subjects Photograph Collection, 1845-2005, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives.

The Space Needle and the Alweg Monorail were symbols of modernity and “the Space Age.” Seattle Monorail and the Seattle Space Needle, 1964, General Subjects Photograph Collection, 1845-2005, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov.

Since 1962, the Space Needle has been a towering presence looking over Washington State’s largest city. In the late 1950’s, the city of Seattle realized how a world’s fair could bring infrastructure development and economic benefits to the city. City Councilman Al Rochester pioneered the idea and quickly gained support from lawmakers and the people of Seattle. Named the Century 21 Exposition, the fair was conceived as an international exhibition on the ways that humans were “living in the space age.”

Fair organizers felt Seattle needed an icon and centerpiece to display its technology and modernity. Local developers and international visionaries collaborated to raise a 605-foot tower from the ground in less than a year. When it opened, the Space Needle was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River and an unprecedented engineering feat. Featuring attractions like restaurants and a revolving observation deck, the Space Needle was visited by 2.3 million people during the 6 month fair. Today the iconic structure “annually hosts more than 1 million visitors, making it the #1 tourist attraction in the Northwest” according to the Space Needle Corporation.

The featured photograph was taken in 1964 and shows the Space Needle peering over the top of the Alweg Monorail, another symbol of modernity that debuted during the fair. (Look for a future treasure about the monorail system in Seattle.) Find this photo and others of the Space Needle in the General Subjects Photograph Collection, 1845-2005 at your Washington State Digital Archives. If you are interested in the Century 21 Exposition, the city of Seattle has digitized a collection of Century 21 Exposition documents.