Monday, October 2, 2023

How the US participated at the Taejon 93 and Lisbon 98 world expos – and didn’t at Hanover 2000

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James Ogul

This article, originally published in July 2014, is part of “Tales from the Expo,” an InPark Magazine online book written by James Ogul and edited by Judith Rubin.

World’s Fairs: Why participate?

[dropcap color=”#888″ type=”square”]I[/dropcap]t is important for the United States to represent itself at the international gatherings known as world expositions or world’s fairs. These events offer significant opportunities to strengthen international bonds and stimulate trade. With 168 member countries in the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) and most world expos attracting upwards of 150 participating countries – standing for more than 90% of the worlds population – there is no doubt that these are powerful venues.

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the groundbreaking of the US Pavilion for Milan Expo 2015.
US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on video to the team in Italy at the groundbreaking of the US Pavilion for Milan Expo 2015. Photo: US Department of State.

Since the year 2000, 126,904,441 people have attended world’s fairs. Yet the US has invariably been late to the party and scraping for funds. It seems that in order to participate at all there has had to be a significant angle. With Taejon (1993) it was Amway stepping in to fund the US Pavilion privately. With Lisbon (1998) it was reaching out to other Federal Agencies, due to Congressional funding prohibitions that prevented the USIA from funding the pavilion. In 1999 Congress passed new legislation adversely impacting even other Federal Agencies from assisting. The Hanover 2000 effort never had an angle although the people working on it strove diligently to make it happen.

More recently, the US Pavilions at Shanghai 2010 and Yeosu 2012 were worthy achievements – but again, both struggled with monumental funding challenges that affected the entire process and shrank the production timeline. The US Pavilion for Milan 2015 broke ground today, with Secretary of State John Kerry participating via video feed – but it too has had an uphill journey from the start and that journey is not yet complete.

The featured photo at top shows the US Pavilion at Lisbon Expo 98. Photo by Gordon Linden.


[dropcap color=”#888″ type=”square”]T[/dropcap]aejon Expo 93 took place in South Korea from August 7 1993 though November 7, 1993. The site area was 62 acres and the attendance was 14,005,808. The theme was “The Challenge of a New Road to Development.” The Expo focused on high technology and the environment.

Taejon 93 represented a new direction in the culture of world expos overseen by the BIE: the selection of a developing country as host of a world’s fair.

For the United States, the Taejon expo represented a different milestone. The US had relied increasingly on private support for its expo pavilions in past years but this was the first time an official US pavilion was organized, managed and funded entirely by the private sector. This practice has remained in force for the US presence at subsequent expos including Milan 2015.

141 countries participated in Taejon Expo 93. The US was among them – but initially had decided against doing so. The Taejon expo followed on the heels of a two-expo year. 1992 saw world’s fairs in both Seville and Genoa, and the US participated in both. The US Information Agency (USIA) was the agency of the United States Government (USG) that oversaw US participation in overseas world’s fairs (this responsibility is now handled within the US Department of State, which absorbed the USIA). And the USIA, suffering from expo fatigue after the drawn-out battles with Congress to obtain authority to reprogram funds for pavilions at Seville and Genoa, made a decision that it would not participate in Taejon.

Amway steps up

At Taejon Expo 93, US Commissioner General Terry McAuliffe speaks on US National Day
At Taejon Expo 93, US Commissioner General Terry McAuliffe speaks on US National Day. Photo courtesy James Ogul.

Then, Amway Corporation, which had been a major sponsor for the US Pavilion at Genoa’s Colombo 92 exposition, stepped up with an unsolicited proposal to fund the project in its entirety. Soon after, the State of Alaska also came in with a proposal to provide a pavilion at no cost to the USG. For a while there was a competition between the two and then Alaska pulled out due to a lack of fundraising success. A Memorandum of Agreement was negotiated between the USIA and Taerus Expo Corporation (a nonprofit subsidiary set up by Amway to run the project). I was appointed project coordinator to oversee the project for the Agency. The first US Pavilion funded entirely by the private sector was underway.

That Memorandum of Agreement – which became a model for future US Pavilion efforts – clearly spelled out the roles of the private sector partner and USIA. As project coordinator, it was my responsibility to regularly interact with the private sector partner to assure that the pavilion project would reflect the proper US message, would be engaging and would have the capacity to reach a large audience. Because of my extensive prior experience with expo projects I also provided consultation to the private sector partner on such matters as fundraising ideas, use of the military, and how to do a National Day. We accomplished the entire project in just seven months. No other US Pavilion project in history was accomplished this quickly.

Entrance to the US Pavilion at Taejon Expo 93. Photo courtesy James Ogul.
Entrance to the US Pavilion at Taejon Expo 93. Photo courtesy James Ogul.

Terry McAuliffe (currently serving as the Governor of Virginia) was appointed by the White House to serve as Commissioner General for the US pavilion at Taejon. Shortly thereafter he was accorded the personal rank of Ambassador.

3 million visitors

The US exhibition at Taejon played host to nearly 3 million visitors – setting a record for US participation in such expositions. More than 100,000 visits were recorded in the first 5 days.

Outside the US Pavilion at Taejon Expo 93. Photo courtesy James Ogul.
Outside the US Pavilion at Taejon Expo 93. Photo courtesy James Ogul.

Following the successful privatizing of the US presence at Taejon Expo 93, Congress passed legislation in 1994 (later superseded by legislation in 1999) stating that the USIA could not spend money for participation in BIE sanctioned world’s fairs that was not specifically authorized and appropriated for such purpose. From the passage of that legislation forward, the USIA (and later the State Department) has not sought an appropriation for US Pavilions.

The pavilion was housed in a building provided by the organizers and was adjacent to the Canadian Pavilion. Rathe Productions of New York built the exhibit and Stewart Silver was the project director. I went over for a month and it was to be my last on-site work experience at an expo as the following year Congress passed restrictive language that prohibited spending Federal money for travel to an expo.

Working at Taejon was a unique experience in one interesting respect in that there was no cleaning contractor. Those of us on the night shift – primarily the guides and a few senior staff, after closing the pavilion, got out our cleaning products (courtesy of Amway) and went to work!

A visitor’s introduction to the Pavilion included a visual statement of greeting by United States President Bill Clinton, a photograph of the President and a view of the Presidential Seal.

Pavilion walk-through: US at Taejon

Upon entering the exhibition, the visitor encountered an Earth observation experience. Radiant views of the Earth as seen from space shuttles low orbit passes were intercut with computer-simulated images presenting the seasonal change of Earth’s vegetation patterns, the ocean’s temperatures and cloud patterns.

US Pavilion guides at Taejon Expo 93. Photo courtesy James Ogul.
US Pavilion guides at Taejon Expo 93. There were 30 guides, volunteers from Michigan State University. Photo courtesy James Ogul.

Still images showed the ozone layer, and graphics demonstrated the value of this information gained by American technology in understanding the macro issues of the global environment.

From the darkened first area, the visitor entered the area representing American recycling as a matter of everyday business. A series of displays represented the transformation of refuse into new products and American industry’s leadership role in the sheer quantity of new products manufactured from recycled materials.

The exhibit of recycled products transitioned to a more formal space for the exhibition of visual arts including photography, painting, drawing, prints, video and sculpture. Curator Nancy Pressly, former Assistant Director of the Museum Program at the National Endowment for the Arts, selected 32 works of art by internationally recognized contemporary American artists concerned with environmental issues. Artists included were Ashley Bickerton, Peter Goin, David Hanson, Newton Harrison and Helen Mayer Harrison, Julio Larraz, Manual, Richard Misrach, Robert Rauschenberg, Alexis Rockman, James Rosenquist, Michelle Stuart and Mierle Laderman Ukeles.

Nowadays we call them "Student Ambassadors" - volunteer guides at Taejon Expo 93, US Pavilion. Photo courtesy James Ogul.
Nowadays we call them “Student Ambassadors” – volunteer guides at Taejon Expo 93, US Pavilion. Photo courtesy James Ogul.

The centerpiece of the exhibition area and a very popular photo-op was a sculpture by Mierle Ukeles, the “Ceremonial Arch Honoring Service Workers in the New Service Economy.”

Thirty students from Michigan State University volunteered their time to serve as guides on behalf of the USG. These ambassadors of goodwill greeted visitors at the entrance of the US Pavilion, made presentations in each of the galleries, and interacted enthusiastically with the visitors. The student hosts were a distinguishing feature of the pavilion and brought it much favorable publicity. Student volunteers are a regular part of US Pavilions at world expos and nowadays we call them Student Ambassadors.


[dropcap color=”#888″ type=”square”]I[/dropcap]should mention in passing here that there was an active project to have a joint world’s fair in Vienna and Budapest in 1995. Vienna dropped out and Budapest rescheduled to host the event in 1996, but ultimately all plans were canceled and the expo was never held. Tokyo, meanwhile, had mounted impressive plans and preparations for a non-BIE World City Exposition in 1996, which was also canceled.


[dropcap color=”#888″ type=”square”]L[/dropcap]isbon Expo 98 ran from May 22, 1998 to September 30, 1998, and had the theme of “The Oceans, a Heritage for the Future.” 146 countries participated on the 100-acre site. Expo attendance was 10,100,944 and the US Pavilion drew 1,088,407. The ocean theme played very well with audiences it should be noted that Expo 2012 in Yeosu, Korea followed this with its theme “The Living Ocean and Coast.”

Lisbon 98: The US Pavilion floor plan. Photo courtesy James Ogul.
Lisbon 98: The US Pavilion floor plan. Photo courtesy James Ogul.

Following a discussion with the White House Liaison, a memo was drafted recommending that the US participate in Lisbon Expo 98. The idea was approved and the first action was to appoint a Commissioner General to spearhead the project and in particular raise the necessary money. Joseph Duffey, Director of the USIA, appointed former House Whip Tony Coelho.

In addition to private sector fundraising, the Commissioner General decided to approach other Federal Agencies as the Congressional prohibitions did not preclude that option. He ultimately was successful in raising $2,525,000 from the Department of Defense, $4,025,000 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, $75,000 from the Department of Commerce, $70,000 from the Department of Energy and $30,000 from the Department of Transportation. This money was transferred to USIA and coupled with private sector contributions brought the total budget to $9,687,000.

Keeping up with the times, the US Pavilion at Lisbon was the first US Pavilion in history to have a nationally recognized website. Younger people reading this will want to remind themselves that the internet is still a relatively recent phenomenon – the website enabled the US Pavilion to “go into the home” in a way not previously possible. Over 950,000 people visited the US Pavilion website from all over the world, with an average visitor stay of 5 minutes.

US at Lisbon 98: Pavilion walk-through

The US Pavilion at Lisbon Expo 98. In a sign of the times, this was the first US expo pavilion to have a virtual existence on an official website as well. Photo: James Ogul.
The US Pavilion at Lisbon Expo 98. In a sign of the times, this was the first US expo pavilion to have a virtual existence on an official website as well. Photo: James Ogul.

Meanwhile, real-world visitors to the physical Lisbon ’98 started their tour of the US Pavilion by viewing a welcome video produced by the National Geographic Society. The video, on several monitors in English, Portuguese, and Spanish, included official greetings from President Clinton, US Commissioner General Tony Coelho, and US Official Spokesperson Dr. Sylvia Earle. Visitors were also introduced to the US Pavilion’s official mascot, Sake the Sea Lion, from Moss Landing Laboratories in California.

Inside the Pavilion, visitors experienced four major areas:

— Hall of Discovery
— Ocean Awareness room
— Oceans Theater playing the exclusively produced film, Discover Ocean Planet
— Ocean Environment exhibits

The Hall of Discovery was designed to promote US ocean science education programs. Visitors entered a majestic hall featuring nine exhibits with interactive elements and videos. Under the theme of student/scientist partnerships, visitors experienced recently developed programs that used the Internet to bring the research lab to the classroom.

Visitors next entered the Ocean Awareness room. Displaying America’s leadership in ocean issues, exhibits highlighted America’s two leading oceanographic institutions, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

B.B. King performed for the US National Day at Lisbon Expo 98 to a huge, enthusiastic audience. Photo:

The Ocean Awareness Room was also host to the US Pavilion’s State Program participants. Three U.S. Coastal states with significant Portuguese-American populations – Massachusetts, California, and Hawaii – presented their exhibits on a rotating basis. This room also included fixed displays from the National Geographic Society and the US Department of Energy.

Next was the Oceans Theatre, a 120-seat circular auditorium featuring wide screen projection. Visitors saw an eight-minute film, narrated by Jean-Michel Cousteau, with never-before-seen footage of deep sea life filmed by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The theater also served as a forum for special events, such as the airing of the June 12, 1998, National Ocean Conference live via satellite.

Visitors then entered the Ocean Environment, the culminating exhibit area that simulated an underwater experience. The main attractions were the simulated iceberg and the Aplysia touch tank. The perimeter walls of the gallery featured coral reef replicas and scrims filled with moving marine graphics, creating a subtle illusion of being immersed in the deep blue sea. The two major exhibitors in this space were the US Navy and the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Retail & restaurant

The U.S.A. Shop, the next stop after the Ocean Environment, sold a range of branded products including T-shirts, water bottles, tote bags, fanny packs and cowboy hats. The official US pins were always in demand. Other popular products included baseball caps with the Chicago Bulls’ logo as well as other sports team logos and Harley Davidson logo hats.

Model of design concept for US Pavilion at Hanover Expo 2000. Photo courtesy James Ogul.
Model of design concept for US Pavilion at Hanover Expo 2000. Photo courtesy James Ogul.

As a participant at Expo ’98, the United States was fortunate enough to secure restaurant space on one of the popular four floating barge restaurants. Ocean Blues Bar and Grill, the U.S. Pavilion’s independently run restaurant, was located in a beautiful setting on the Tagus River in the South International Area, just a few steps away from the US Pavilion.

The restaurant featured regional dishes from Alabama, New York, Denver, Louisiana, Tennessee, Miami Beach, Phoenix, Washington, and Santa Barbara, Ocean Blues. Live bands and entertainment, appropriately blues and jazz bands, played on into the night.

National Day

Each country at an expo has a National Day. This is a day of celebration typically marked by an official ceremony in the Expo’s largest amphitheater (in this case Sony Plaza), followed by special events throughout the day. At Lisbon, the US Pavilion went all out. The featured performer was blues legend B.B. King and his band, and according to Expo ’98 authorities, this US Pavilion National Day concert drew an estimated 25,000, by far the largest crowd to pack Sony Plaza. B.B. King belted the blues and strummed his famous Gibson guitar (“Lucille”) for more than two hours.

The B.B. King concert was preceded by several other special US National Day activities. Kicking things off, VIPs were met by the Sixth Fleet Band as they and the Color Guard led the entourage through the streets of the Expo in a full-blown “American Style Parade.” The Official US Delegation was headed by US Secretary of Education Richard Riley. [Note: James Ogul will look more closely at world expo National Days in a forthcoming article.]


[dropcap color=”#888″ type=”square”]H[/dropcap]anover Expo 2000 was designated a Universal Exposition by the BIE. Its theme was “Man, Nature, Technology.” It opened June 1, 2000 and closed October 31, 2000. It occupied a 400-acre site. It drew 18 million visitors. 180 countries participated, but the US was not one of them.

Another look at the US Pavilion model for Hanover 2000. Ultimately the US did not participate and the pavilion was never built. Photo courtesy James Ogul.
Another look at the US Pavilion model for Hanover 2000. Ultimately the US did not participate and the pavilion was never built. Photo courtesy James Ogul.

Initially, the US had planned to take part in the Hanover world’s fair. The opening press conference for US Participation at Hanover Expo 2000 took place at the White House Conference Center’s Lincoln Room on Monday, October 5, 1997. At that press conference the US Commissioner General, William Rollnick was introduced. Rollnick was on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of Mattel, Inc. and was to be responsible for the design, construction and operation of the US Pavilion. The first task at hand was to raise $45 million in private sector funding for the pavilion project.

Commissioner General Rollnick created a nonprofit organization, U.S.A. at Hannover 2000, Inc., and set up offices in New York. He appointed his wife Nancy Ellison as Deputy Commissioner General. I served as Project Coordinator for the USIA.

In April 1998, SITE Architecture and Design was selected by the State Department to design the USA Pavilion for Expo 2000. As SITE described it, “The American exhibit is a celebration of the themes of diversity and opportunity in the USA. Its public spaces are designed as a microcosm of the country – a tapestry of America – where the plaza level and roof plane fuse together in a patchwork collage of varied materials and landscapes. This design approach takes advantage of the building’s dramatic aerial visibility from an overhead cable car system. For a visitor standing in the main esplanade, the entire structure appears to be a sweeping microcosm of the USA, tilted upward toward the sky. As an expansion of this concept, the pavilion is separated by an undulating 10-meter wide walkway (inspired by the famous Route 66…)”

After a two-year effort to raise money, only $12 million of the needed $45 million had been pledged and the State Department decided at that point to end the project. It was a bitter disappointment for all involved, and was to be the first time in the history of world’s fairs going back to 1851, that the US did not participate (it has happened again once since then, when the US did not participate in the 2008 expo in Zaragoza, Spain).

Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin ([email protected]) is a leading journalist, content marketing specialist and connector in the international attractions industry. She reports on design and technical design, production and project management, industry trends and company culture. From 2005-2020 she ran communications and publications for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In 2013, she was honored with the TEA Service Award. She was development director of IMERSA and publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association, and has contributed to the publications of PLASA, IAAPA and the International Planetarium Society. Judith joined World’s Fair magazine in 1987, which introduced her to the attractions industry. She joined InPark in 2010. Judith earned a BFA from Pratt Institute. She has lived in Detroit, New York, Oakland, and now Saint Louis, where she is active in the local arts community.

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