Little items play big role in World’s Fair exhibit

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- These nylon stockings which were displayed at the New York World's Fair, 1939-1940, are part of the LSU Union Gallery's World's Fair exhibit which continues through Sunday, July 28, 2013. Nylon made its debut at the 1939 San Francisco and New York fairs, but they were not available to the public until 1940.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- These nylon stockings which were displayed at the New York World's Fair, 1939-1940, are part of the LSU Union Gallery's World's Fair exhibit which continues through Sunday, July 28, 2013. Nylon made its debut at the 1939 San Francisco and New York fairs, but they were not available to the public until 1940.

The pin is small and shaped into a pickle.

Sweet or dill? Well, maybe the H.J. Heinz Co. was advertising its sweet pickles while handing out its green pickle pins at the 1939 World Exposition in New York. The pin became the exposition’s most sought-after souvenir.

Everyone wanted one.

Now everyone has an opportunity to see one of these little pickles at the LSU Student Union Gallery’s exhibit, Centuries of Progress: American World’s Fairs, 1853-1984. The show runs through Sunday, July 28, and presents an overview of World’s Fairs from 1853 through the 1984 Louisiana World’s Exposition in New Orleans.

“We found our Louisiana World’s Fair souvenirs on the Internet,” Lexie Guillory, the gallery’s graduate curatorial assistant, explained.

Guillory learned something new while putting together the Louisiana portion of the show.

“Louisiana’s World’s Fair was the first to have a mascot,” she said. “He was a pelican named Seymour de Fair.”

A plush version of Seymour sits inside a glass case with other Louisiana souvenirs not far from the case holding the Heinz pickle pin.

“My favorite souvenir is beside the Heinz pin,” Guillory said.

She pointed to a pair of walnuts. A ribbon ties the halves of the first walnut together. The other is open, exposing an accordion of miniature postcards.

“This is the World’s Fair in a nutshell,” Guillory said.

It’s a souvenir of the 1904 World’s Exposition in St. Louis, nicknamed The Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Each tiny card features a scene from the fair.

These are the things that make this show fun. Each artifact not only offers a lesson in history, but is an actual piece from more than a century of world’s fairs in America where visitors could get a glimpse into the future. Looking at what was new back then gives viewers a chance to trace progress to where the world is now.

The Victor “Talking Machine,” for instance, also was a feature at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

The machine essentially is a phonograph, the kind that played 78 rpm records. Looking at it in the gallery’s glass case brings to mind how, in its seemingly prehistoric state, it is grandfather to the iPod and mp3 player.

But the fate of nylon stockings seems to have taken a different turn.

“Dupont introduced nylon stockings in 1939,” gallery director Judi Stahl said.

“This was a big hit with women, because only silk stockings were sold before that time, and not everyone could afford them.”

The stockings made their debut at the fairs in both New York and San Francisco. A pair from one of these fairs is displayed in the gallery. They are reinforced at the feet and required garters to hold them in place.

These are just a few of the discoveries to be made in the Union Gallery, where fairs introduced visitors to the future, and sent them away wearing pickle pins.