1964 New York World’s Fair and online startups

Over the Thanksgiving holiday you get to visit with family and hear stories, some stories you have heard a million times, others for the first time. Here’s a story my Mom told me about her and my Dad, which is one I had never heard.

First off my Dad and Mom met each other while in the Army. My Dad was a photographer, he tells me that being in Korea as a photographer was still the best job he ever had. When my Dad left the Army he traveled with my Mom around the country doing seasonal gigs. Might be hired as the photographer for Santa, or the Easter Bunny, take pictures at a school for “photo day”, or league night at a local bowling alley. Back in the day, as a working photographer, you needed to shoot and develop the film yourself. Being trained in the Army my Dad knew how to do all of this. My Mom was his pretty assistant.

santa 1960s
My Dad finally ended up hooking up with some friends who got a contract to work the World Fair in New York City in 1964. They had a perfect business going. Here’s how it worked.
Remember those towers from "Men In Black"

They would hire young guys to going out in the fair grounds, usually in front a famous landmark, and take pictures of young couples or families. In what I would call an “ambush” they startled couples with a flashbulb going off. Then the photographer would begin his sales pitch of whether they wanted to buy the photo he had just taken. If the photographer made the sale he would then have the couple pose for another photo, “just in case”, and take another picture.


What really was happening was that flashbulbs were cheap, film was not. When the photographer would initially “take a picture” of the couple all he was doing was getting their attention with the flash of light, so that he could give them his sales pitch. When they agreed, then, and only then, would he use film. The second shot, where the couple posed, was the only photo taken.

Speed was also part of the pitch.
Couples could either retrieve their photo the next day, at one of the photo kiosks around the fair, or have them mailed.


So each day a runner would send film over to an apartment, where a dark room was set up, outside the fair grounds. My mom would then place the photos, which sometimes my Dad would develop, in cardboard frames and either send them back to the fair for pickup or mail them out to the young couples and families who purchased them.

This seems to be a perfect model for an internet startup. First it helps if you have the skills to handle all parts of the job. In my Dad’s case he knew how to take photos and develop them. A perfect match of the creative and technical. Which as I’m writing this makes me realize that this is what I strive for too.

Their photo selling model also makes sense for marketing your product online. First you grab their attention with something “flashy”. Make sure this “flashy” item isn’t too expensive. Give them your pitch, close the sale, and then deliver it to them right away.

Of course my Mom would also point out it, it also helps to have a pretty (and smart) assistant partner.


1 Response to “1964 New York World’s Fair and online startups”

  1. 1 Sam December 1, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Thank You for giving me something to think about when I see the fair grounds in Queens besides Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and a giant squashed bug.

    In these days of ecommerce it is good to recall that American prosperity is based on asking real people for their business, and then delivering.

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