Dinoland Pavilion at the World's Fair: Museum Connections

by AMNH on

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Fifty years ago today, the 1964−1965 New York World's Fair opened at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It drew over 50 million visitors to Queens to see a multitude of exhibitions showcasing technological innovations and international cultures.

As noted in the New York Times last week, one of the highlights was the Dinoland pavilion, sponsored by Sinclair Oil Corporation, which featured nine life-size models of dinosaurs, including Brontosaurus (now Apatosaurus), Triceratops, and a 20-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex, that loomed over enthralled visitors in a spectacular outdoor re-creation of a Jurassic environment. 

Tyrannosaurus rex from the Sinclair Oil Corporation Dinoland pavilion
Via Flickr/Karen Horton

The towering sculptures were crafted out of fiberglass by wildlife artist Louis Paul Jonas, who earlier in his career had studied with naturalist and pioneering taxidermist Carl Akeley. Jonas had even helped create the African elephant group for the Museum's Akeley Hall of African Mammals as well as sculptures for the Hall of Asian Mammals. To produce Dinoland's fiberglass models, Jonas worked with another Museum luminary: the then-89-year-old Barnum Brown, the fossil hunter who had discovered T. rex at the turn of the 20th century.

By the early 1900s, Brown had gained fame as a great dinosaur collector (and as a snappy dresser), sending back more then 1,200 crates of fossils back to the American Museum of Natural History from far-flung expeditions. (For more about Brown's incredible life and career, read the 2010 book Barnum Brown: The Man Who Discovered Tyrannosaurus Rex by Museum Curator Mark Norell, chair of the Division of Paleontology, and Research Associate Lowell Dingus.) 

Barnum Brown, 1934
Barnum Brown at Howe Quarry, Shell, Wyoming, in 1934

By the time preparations for the 1964 New York World's Fair were getting under way, Brown had become a bona fide celebrity, hosting a weekly CBS radio broadcast and consulting on Walt Disney's Fantasia. As the man who had introduced American audiences to dinosaurs and fossil hunting, and as the curator of vertebrate paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, Brown was the natural choice to consult on Dinoland, an attraction designed to bring together then-recent scientific discoveries with the spectacle of a prehistoric world populated by dinosaurs.

While working on the exhibition, Brown traveled frequently to Louis Paul Jonas's studio, in Hudson, NY. Unfortunately, Brown did not live to see Dinoland become a reality; he died shortly before the opening of the World's Fair on April 22, 1964.

Tyrannosaurus Rex

Today, Brown's legacy continues not just in Museum's fossil collections—where no fewer than 57 of the specimens on display are his discoveries—but in the in the worldwide love of dinosaurs and paleontology that he helped to spark.