Superman Day at the New York World's Fair


"Superman Day" was celebrated at the New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens, on Wednesday, July 3, 1940. The event was sponsored by Macy's Toyland and Superman Inc. The New York Times reported 3,000 people in attendance.

Rejected Superman Day illustration by Lou Zimmerman
An estimated 1,000 children competed in races, rope-skipping contests, and various other events to determine a "Super-Boy" and "Super-Girl" of the day. The celebrity panel of contest judges included famed bodybuilder Charles Atlas and Broadway performer Ray Middleton. Contest winners William Aronis and Maureen Reynolds were awarded trophies and a meeting with Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Semi-finalists were given two complimentary passes to the "Superman Adventure" at Macy's Herald Square in Manhattan.

Jerry Siegel and DC Comics co-founder Jack Liebowitz were filmed together during the festivities. The Kodachrome color footage of the day is from the Siegel estate.
Jerry Siegel & Jack Liebowitz - Superman Day, New York World's Fair - July 3, 1940

A midday parade was led by the first actor to portray Superman in costume. Photos of the unknown Superman were published in Amazing World of DC Comics #7 (July-August 1975). Editor Allan Asherman asked readers for help identifying the mystery man. Many sources credit contest judge Ray Middleton based on information received by Asherman, but the secret identity remains under debate. Middleton starred as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in the World's Fair production of "American Jubilee" from May 11, to October 27, 1940. According to a 1946 interview with Bud Collyer, the costume was filled by a "brawny, muscle-bound ex-pugilist." 
Superman Day - New York World's Fair - July 3, 1940
The Superman float was accompanied by a procession of Boy Scouts, elephants, and midget autos from the Theme Center to what is now Meadow Lake Bridge in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. A trio of trained Asian elephants were provided by "Frank Buck's Jungleland" exotic animal exhibit. DC Comics co-founder Harry Donenfeld was filmed riding one of the elephants. During the parade, 10,000 balloons were released containing randomly inserted Superman prize coupons.
Superman Day Parade - New York World's Fair - July 3, 1940

Superman was the only comic strip character honored with an entire day at the New York World's Fair. "Superman Day" was organized by Allen Ducovny and Robert Joffe Maxwell, developers of The Adventures of Superman radio serial. The producers sought to attract sponsorships and network syndication for the program. Ducovny and Maxwell co-wrote the iconic opening:

“Faster than an airplane, more powerful than a locomotive, impervious to bullets. ‘Up in the sky – look!’ ‘It’s a bird.’ ‘It’s a plane.’ ‘It’s Superman!’ ”

The radio program premiered on February 12, 1940, starring Bud Collyer as the first actor to voice Superman and Clark Kent. A prerecorded transcription disc of the July 3 episode, "Hans Holbein’s Doll Factory" part 5 of 6, was played twice that day in an event hall. A free copy of the Superman comic book was given away during the awards presentation ceremony outside of the "American Jubilee" entrance.

Superman Day - New York World's Fair - WOR 710

The following afternoon, a ticking satchel disguised as a radio was discovered in the British Pavilion. Detectives Ferdinand Socha and Joseph Lynch moved the bag to an area behind the Polish Pavilion. At 5:20 PM, the dynamite inside detonated, killing both officers. A British agent was suspected of planting the bomb to disrupt the July 4 celebrations and provoke America into entering World War II. The terrorist act remains unsolved in the New York Police Department open files. The New York World's Fair permanently closed on October 27, 1940.

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In high school, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster self-published a one-page preview of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair in their early fan magazine, Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization. "The World Fair '33" was included with a fictional review of the RKO feature King Kong released two months later. The fourth issue was mailed to subscribers in February 1933. The print run was limited and very few copies still exist.
Science Fiction no. 4 - The World Fair '33

"Superman at the World's Fair" is featured in the 96-page New York World's Fair Comics released by DC in April 1939. The 12-page story was written by Siegel and illustrated by Shuster. The duo also contributed a 12-page feature for Slam Bradley, an earlier prototype for the Superman character. Superman appears on the cover with blonde hair. The cover image was penciled by DC editor Vin Sullivan and inked by Fred Guardineer.
New York World's Fair Comics - 1 - April 1939

A second 96-page issue of New York World's Fair Comics was released in April 1940 with another 12-page Superman feature. "Superman at the 1940 World's Fair" was written by Jerry Siegel and illustrated by Jack Burnley, the first Superman artist hired by DC from outside of the Joe Shuster Shop. Siegel also contributed stories for Slam Bradley and the Red, White, and Blue team. The cover by Jack Burnley depicts the first appearance of Superman with Batman and also Robin.
New York World's Fair Comics - 2 - July 1940

A quarterly magazine titled World's Best Comics featuring solo stories for Superman and Batman was released in February 1941. The second issue was renamed World's Finest Comics and the series remained in publication for 45 years until the 1986 finale of the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event.



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Asherman, Allan. "Superman at the World's Fair." Amazing World of DC Comics, vol. 2, no. 7, National Periodical Publications, Jul-Aug 1975.

Becker, Milton. "'Superman' Day is Held." The New York Times, 4 Jul. 1940, p. 13.

Brown, Tweed. "He Makes Like Superman." Tune In, Sept. 1946, pp. 27-29.

Daniels, Les. Superman: The Complete History: The Life and Times of the Man of Steel. Chronicle, 2004.

Hayde, Michael J. Flights of Fantasy: The Unauthorized but True Story of Radio & TV's Adventures of Superman. BearManor Media, 2009. 

Kobler, John. "Up, Up and Awa-a-y! The Rise of Superman, Inc." The Saturday Evening Post, 21 Jun. 1941, pp. 14-15, 73-76.

Pasko, Martin. The DC Vault: A Museum-in-a-Book Featuring Rare Collectibles from the DC Universe. Running Press, 2008.

"Police Die in Blast - Timed Device Explodes After It Is Taken Out of Pavilion." The New York Times, 5 Jul. 1940.

Ricca, Brad. Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster--the Creators of Superman. St. Martin's Griffin, 2014.





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