• On this day: Richard Nixon and family visit the Seattle World's Fair in 1962

    By: Alan Stein, Historylink.org

    Updated:

    SEATTLE - Friday marks 56 years since then-former vice-president, and future President, Richard Nixon and his family visited Seattle for the 1962 World's Fair.

    The fair was held from April 21 to October 21, and nearly 10 million people attended to live performances, exotic foods, and art from around the world. 

    The following is a recap of the event in a historylink essay written by Alan Stein 

    On August 10, 1962 former vice-president Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) visits the Seattle World's Fair with his wife Pat (1913-1993), and his daughters Julie (b. 1948) and Patricia (b. 1946). The next morning, Nixon visits with a young admirer, before returning to the fair with his family for a second day's look.

    >> SeattleInsider: PHOTOS of Seattle 1962 World's Fair

    Arrival at Sea-Tac

    The Nixons arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Wednesday evening, August 8, where they were greeted by a crowd of reporters. Nixon stated that he was only in town to see the fair, and was "not looking for votes up here," yet gladly talked about politics with the journalists (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 9, 1962).

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    Regarding his gubernatorial race in California, Nixon expressed confidence that he would win even though polls showed current Governor Pat Brown (1905-1996) with a slight edge. When asked about other governor's races across the nation, Nixon felt sure that Nelson Rockefeller (1908-1979) would easily win in New York, and that newcomer George Romney (1907-1995) showed great promise in Michigan. The former presidential candidate refused to make any predictions about the 1964 presidential race, reiterating that he had taken himself out of that race, but felt that Rockefeller, Romney, or Senator Barry Goldwater (1909-1998) "could win under the proper circumstances" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 9, 1962).

    Pat Nixon told the press that their daughters Patricia and Julie enjoyed having their parents at home most of the time, but that the whole family was glad to be on vacation. "We're going to Victoria from here," she said. "It's beyond all words to the girls because they've never been outside of the U.S.A" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 9, 1962). After answering more questions, the Nixons left for the Olympic Hotel.

    Autographs and Pictures

    The next morning, Nixon and his family arrived at the fairground a half-hour late, having been delayed at breakfast. "We went to the (Olympic Hotel) dining room," said 16-year-old Patricia Nixon, "and there was such a big crowd we had to wait. The Nixons entered the fairgrounds at the west gate, where a taped recording by President Kennedy greeted every visitor.

    "It's a pleasure to welcome you to the 1962 World's Fair," intoned the man that Nixon lost to in the 1960 presidential election, "I'm glad you could come." Nixon didn't seem to mind, especially when greeted by hundreds of well-wishers as he stepped onto the grounds. Throughout the day, countless visitors greeted the former vice-president and asked for an autograph or to shake his hand.

    Nixon and his family had a busy morning, visiting the NASA Pavilion, U.S. Science Pavilion, and the Great Britain, and Republic of China pavilions. At each exhibit, Nixon stopped to chat with other fairgoers, many of whom asked to have their picture taken with him. When asked how the fair had an impact on California, Nixon remarked that he saw more bumper stickers there for the fair than those for either Pat Brown or himself.

    After enjoying lunch in the Space Needle restaurant, Nixon held a brief press conference. Brushing aside questions about the Kennedy administration, Nixon preferred instead to talk about his race for governor, noting that former President Eisenhower would play an active role in his campaign. He also brought up the sharp disagreement he had with Pat Brown on the subject of capital punishment. Brown had recently stated that California should abolish the death penalty, whereas Nixon felt that it was an effective deterrent against crime.

    Nixon and his family then toured more foreign exhibits before attending a reception in Seattle at the Swedish Club.

    Response to a Letter

    The next morning Nixon went the home of Mr. and Mrs. Russell Anderson to visit with their daughter Karen. A month earlier, the 13-year-old had undergone muscular surgery on her feet, and had written a letter to Nixon expressing disappointment that she would not be able to see him at the fair. Instead she greeted him in front of her house.

    Seated in a chair and surrounded by many neighborhood children, including some of her classmates at Nathan Eckstein Junior High School, Karen had a nice friendly chat with the former vice-president. Nixon told her that he gets many letters, but because of his busy schedule he can't visit everyone who writes him. He was impressed with how well-written Karen's latter was, and urged her to become a writer. He then signed her autograph book, as well as her bible.

    The Andersons invited Nixon in for a cup of tea and he accepted. The children came in too, and sat in the living room as Nixon spoke. "Read everything you possibly can," he told them, "whether you're going to be a teacher, a philosopher, no matter what, even a scientist" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 11, 1962). When he left, he gave Karen a blue and gold pen inscribed with his name.

    Strategic Break

    Nixon returned to the fairgrounds where he met up with his family. The day before the crowds at the fair had been so large that they'd had a hard time moving around. Pat Nixon stated that it was "the first time I've ever been frightened by crowds hemming us in" (The Seattle Times, August 11, 1962). On their second day's visit, the family split up into three groups to make their fair experience more pleasurable.

    Nixon toured the grounds with fair president Joe Gandy (1904-1971) and Assistant World's Fair Vice President Willis Camp (1913-1993). Pat Nixon went off with Gandy's wife Laurene (1908-1993) and Camp's wife Marty Camp, while Julie and Tricia were accompanied by the Camps's teenage son Robert. 

    At every exhibit, the former vice-president made plenty of comments, especially at the exhibits of countries he'd visited. Throughout the day, passersby wished him well. "You better win in November," on man cired out. "We need more Republican eggheads," Nixon replied (The Seattle Times, August 11, 1962).

    After visiting the fair, the Nixons spent time in Victoria, British Columbia, before returning to California where the campaign trail awaited.

    Click here to read the full historylink essay by Alan Stein.


    Sources: Paula Becker and Alan J. Stein, The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World's Fair And Its Legacy (Seattle: Seattle Center Foundation, 2011); "Nixon Arrives Here, Sees Wins for GOP in 5 States," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 9, 1962, p. 1; "Here's Pat Nixon," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 9, 1962, p. 6; "Beaming Nixon and Family Receive Cheers at Fair," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 10, 1962, p. 10; "Nixon Certain of Victory in California Race," The Seattle Times, August 9, 1962, p. A; "Nixon Visits Seattle Girl Kept at Home by Ailment," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 11, 1962, p. 14; "Nixons Split up for 2nd Fair Visit," The Seattle Times, August 11, 1962, p. A.

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