TBT: Ford’s Giant, Domed World’s Fair Display Celebrated the Outdoor Lifestyle

May 16, 2024

Ford’s commitment to the environment is well known, so it should come as no surprise that the company was the first large company in the U.S. to commit to Expo ’74, which was billed as “the nation’s first environmental world’s fair.” The event, themed “Celebrating Tomorrow’s Fresh New Environment,” was held in Spokane, Washington, from May through November of that year, and Ford did not disappoint with its display, which was two years in the making. 

Ford’s 8,800-square-foot “Sharing the Environment” exhibit traced America’s mobility history and was intended to show how Ford’s products helped shape relationships with nature. It was housed inside a 120-foot-wide, 45-foot-tall translucent geodesic dome. Ford’s history of enabling mobility was retold through displays that dramatized the company’s involvement in outdoor living. Outdoor displays located near the enclosed area of Ford’s pavilion highlighted how Ford vehicles enabled an outdoor lifestyle.

Display elements in the Ford stand included items such as an original Native American dugout canoe, a covered wagon used by early American settlers, and a futuristic-looking motorized pogo stick. Also included were pieces from company founder and pioneering outdoorsman Henry Ford’s Vagabonds-era camping excursions, such as a 15-person portable camping table. Ford-built products of that era were also included, such as a Mustang II, Mercury Cougar, and American Road camper. 

The exhibit, located on a half-acre site at the entrance to the event, was designed by Ford’s Design Center and Plant Engineering Office. It also included a realistic-looking, 22-foot-tall model of a mountain with seven functional waterfalls – plumbing allowed for as much as 300 gallons of water per minute to recirculate up to the top – which was built in Michigan before being disassembled and shipped 2,000 miles to Spokane. Smaller screens located along the exhibit’s rustic pathways presented Ford’s progress in sustainability, safety, alternative power sources, and alternative methods of transportation such as a 300-mph mass transportation vehicle. 

The display included a 12-minute film, titled “Mother Earth, Father Sky,” which featured people enjoying outdoor activities. Scenes depicted children building snowmen, horseback riding, and boating, and families enjoying summer camping. The movie was shown in a 200-person theater inside in the dome. 

The six-month event, the only world’s fair hosted by a U.S. city during the 1970s, was expected to see more than five million visitors, despite an ongoing energy crisis. Consistent with its theme, the fairgrounds were constructed on a blighted area and later used as a permanent park following the expo’s conclusion. Then-Ford President Lee Iacocca used the event’s opening to call for auto industry leaders and environmentalists to come together to create solutions for environmental issues of the day. 

Ford was a frequent participant in world fairs and other large expos. The company’s contribution to Expo ’74 reflected its legacy of making nature accessible through mobility and signaled what would come over the next 50 years, as Ford continues to help its customers pursue their passion, including outdoor adventuring

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