Designed as the centerpiece for the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, the Unisphere is a 12-story high, spherical metal representation of Earth, which to this day is still the world's largest globe. Dubbed the Miracle in the Meadow, this 120-feet in diameter, 700,000 pounds structure (900,000 pounds if you count its pedestal) was created to celebrate the beginning of the space age through "peace and understanding," which was the theme of the New York World's Fair. The three rings encircling the giant globe represent the orbits of Yuri Gagarin – the first Russian in space, John Glenn - the first American, and Telstar – the first satellite. Located Corona Park, in Flushing Meadows, and visible to drivers on the LIE, the Grand Central, and Van Wyck, as well as to airline passengers landing at the LaGuardia and JFK Airports, the Unisphere is one of Queens' most impressive and admired landmarks.
The world's largest Space Age icon was funded by United States Steel Corporation, designed by Gilmore Clarke and built by American Bridge Company. The giant globe towers 140 feet high over a circular reflecting pool with a series of fountains designed to hide its tripod pedestal to achieve the impression of the planet earth floating in space. Special lighting was built inside the sphere to produce the spectacular effect of sunrise rays moving over the globe. Unfortunately, the inside bulbs have long burnt out and the original lighting no longer works, but the fountain system has been restored.
Constructing the Unisphere was a challenging task for its manufacturer, United States Steel Corporation. Because the Unisphere was an open sculpture under the sky, its every part exposed, the structure had to be able to withstand not only rain and ice, but also the salt-laden storms that periodically downpour over Queens and Long Island. Separate sections of the giant globe were manufactured in Pennsylvania, shipped by rail and truck to Flushing Meadow Park and assembled on the spot, where every part of its 500-piece puzzle fell perfectly into place. The first steel section of the Unisphere's pedestal, which alone weighed twenty tons, was installed on March 6, 1963 and the construction was finished in five months, ahead of schedule.
The maintenance of the Unisphere presented a task in itself. During the seventies, the site fell in disrepair, the fountains were shut off, and spotlights no longer worked. In 1989, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation embarked on a multi-million dollar restoration project of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, which included structural repairs of the Unisphere as well as an extensive clean up of years of dirt and soot. The fountains were replaced, new floodlighting was installed, and the beautiful globe shined once again. On May 10, 1995, the Unisphere was given official landmark status by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Created to instill awe and admiration, Unisphere has served as a source of inspiration for imaginative minds. The famous climber George Willig, a.k.a Human Fly, who had also climbed the World Trade Center, conquered the Unisphere in 1976. Every year people try to repeat his challenge but end up with injuries rather than success. The steel earth has starred in many films. It was the finishing point of The Amazing Race 1 and a battlefield in Iron Man 2. The landmark survived many ordeals the creative minds of American filmmakers had put it through, except for Men in Black, in which it was destroyed by a crashing flying saucer. The photogenic globe also appeared on the front cover of the Time Capsule - the greatest hits album by The B-52's and Licensed to Ill – the album picture of The Beastie Boys. Depeche Mode took promotional photos for their Sounds of the Universe album with the floating earth as a background.
- Flushing Meadows Park Hours:
- Weekdays: 6am to 12am
- Saturday: 8am to midnight
- Sunday: 8am to 11pm
- Subway Stop:
- Take the #7 train to 111th St. in Queens. Walk four blocks downhill (south) on 111th St.