official medal 1939 New York World's Fair

Medals of the 1939 New York World’s Fair – Official, Commemorative and Award Medals

The 1939 New York World’s Fair, themed “Building the World of Tomorrow,” captured the imaginations of over 44 million visitors with its glimpse into the future. Beyond the futuristic exhibits and the introduction of marvels that would shape the century, the Fair was also a celebration of human achievement through artistry, design, and innovation. One of the most tangible and enduring legacies of this historical event is the range of medals issued to commemorate, award, and celebrate the fair’s contributors and its grand vision.

Overview of Medals of 1939 New York World’s Fair

The 1939 New York World’s Fair is renowned for its array of intricately designed medals that captured the essence of the event’s theme, “Building the World of Tomorrow.” Among the different types of medals produced were:

Award Medals: Bestowed upon exhibitors for innovation and excellence, these medals are testaments to the achievements of their recipients. Typically cast in gold, silver, or bronze, they reflect the fair’s spirit of progress and human advancement. So far, I have not been able to find any examples of award medals issued at this World’s Fair.

Official Medal 1939 New York World’s Fair

The obverse of this official medal from the 1939 New York World’s Fair features a representation of George Washington, commemorating the 150th anniversary of his inauguration as the first President of the United States. Beside him, the Trylon and Perisphere, symbols of the fair, embody the theme of the “World of Tomorrow.” The design is completed with the inscription “NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR 1939” at the bottom. This 63.5mm diameter bronze medal was struck by the Robbins Company of Attleboro, Massachusetts, connecting it to a significant historical milestone.

The edge bears the marks ROBBINS CO. / ATTLEBORO – BRONZE. The reverse side of the official medal from the 1939 New York World’s Fair depicts the progression of time with three distinct landscapes. At the top, the phrase “THE WORLD OF TOMORROW” radiates out from a stylized sun, representing the future above a modern cityscape labeled “TO DAY.” The lower half of the medal features a pastoral scene with a windmill and sailing ships, labeled “YESTERDAY,” illustrating the past. This imagery showcases the fair’s theme of looking toward the future while acknowledging the past. The artist’s signature, “KILENYI,” is inscribed at the bottom right, attributing the design to the medallist.

Another version of the medal exists in which the year is 1940 rather than 1939 like the more common one above.

Commemorative Medals: Created for visitors as keepsakes, these medals feature iconic imagery of the fair’s architectural marvels and technological wonders, preserving the memory of the fair’s grandeur and foresight. There are plenty types of commemorative medals that were issued at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. I hope to show images of some of these soon.

Participant Medals: Issued to staff, volunteers, and contributors, these medals served as a token of appreciation for those who played a direct role in orchestrating the monumental event.

The design elements of these medals are often deeply symbolic, with a focus on Art Deco motifs that were prevalent during the era. Recurring themes include the Trylon and Perisphere, the fair’s emblematic structures, along with allegorical figures representing innovation, industry, and global unity. The interplay of geometric patterns and sleek lines lends to the futuristic appeal of these numismatic artworks, making them not only souvenirs but also artifacts of an era that looked eagerly toward the future.