Though the British ruled New York for over 100 years when it was a colony during the 17th and 18th-centuries, no reigning monarch ever set foot in America until 1939. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made history when they arrived in Washington D.C. as guests of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in June of that year. After a couple days in Washington D.C. the royals made a notable stop in New York City to attend the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Europe was on the brink of war and forging a good relationship with Great Britain was a main goal of the visit, though the entire trip appeared strictly social. The Royals began their trip in Washington D.C. and also spent some time at the Roosevelts’ Hyde Park Estate, Springwood. From D.C. the royal couple took a train to New Jersey and then a boat across the harbor to the Battery in Manhattan where they were greeted by New York City’s Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Governor Herbert Lehman. Instead of opting for a grand ticker tape parade down Broadway, they proceeded by car up the West Side Highway on their way to Queens, driving slowly to wave to the crowds who gathering on the sides of the road.  They arrived at the fair via the newly constructed Grand Central Parkway.

At the fair the Royals were met by Grover Whalen, the president of the fair. Whalen had set up a full day of activities for the royals starting with a receiving line of more than 500 fair officials, city and state administrators, and New York’s social elite. The Royals arrives late to the fair (because their motorcade from Manhattan drove slower than planned to accomodate the crowds), so to the disappointment of those in line, they did not get to meet everyone. After meeting as many people as they could, the King and Queen were brought to Federal Hall for a luncheon. After eating, they went on a tour of the fair’s elaborate exhibits, starting with the Irish Exhibit.

Photograph via Wikimedia Commons,  Library and Archives Canada

The King and Queen took home a souvenir which probably made all of the other fair goers jealous. Whalen presented the Royals with a gold and crystal model of the Trylon and Perisphere. The gift was custom made by Cartier and stood ten inches tall. The trylon had a thermometer and the Perisphere had a clockface.

The 1939/1940 World’s Fair was attended by 60 nations, 33 states and U.S. territories, and over a thousand exhibitors, plus 45 million visitors over the course of its two seasons. The theme was “Building the World of Tomorrow.” Queens once again hosted the World’s Fair in 1964/1965, but there were no royal visits from the British monarchy that time around. Since the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, members of the Royal family have often made trips across the pond to New York. Most recently, the Duchess of Sussex came to cheer on Serena Williams at the U.S. Open in Flushing-Meadows.

Want to learn more about the World’s Fairs and see what they left behind? Join us for an upcoming Remnants of the World’s Fair Tour in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park!

Tour the Remnants of the World’s Fairs at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Next, check out 10 NYC Remnants of the 1939 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park