2009-11-27

GM Powerama - Chicago 1955

©Original 35mm Kodachrome transparency
One of the largest GM Motoramas ever built, the September 1955 GM Powerama lasted 26 days and cost $7-million dollars (in 1955 dollars!) Held just south of soldier field, the fair included the first solar-powered electric car. You would think that maybe 54 years later, they would be in production by now?

©Original 35mm Kodachrome transparency
This is the same venue that hosted the Chicago Railroad Fair of 1950, described elsewhere on this blog.

©Original 35mm Kodachrome transparency
Despite the electric car debut, the main theme was DIESEL POWER!! Some over-the-top events included a tractor hoe-down with choreographed tractors square dancing, A bulldozer chorus line, a dumptruck chorus line, a Bulldozer vs. elephant event, a net-full of girls, a trapeze act, high dives into a giant dump truck, a Vegas-style stage show and more.

©Original 35mm Kodachrome transparency
A herd of 6 elephants approaching a waiting bulldozer. The lead one with the top-hat will challenge the bulldozer in a tug-of-war, and of course lose.

©Original 35mm Kodachrome transparency
The tractor hoe-down. Looks like a square dance with the men tractors wearing hats, and the ladies (with female drivers) wearing bonnets.

©Original 35mm Kodachrome transparency
The Convair concept plane created for vertical take-off (VTO). Called the Pogo, it could take off vertically into flight, and then arch into level flight. To land, would stall and hang by its propeller. Despite its unconventional appearance and layout, J.F. Coleman, the test pilot, reported that the Convair XFY-1 Pogo was one of the best handling aircraft he had ever flown (in conventional flight mode). By the time Convair XFY-1 Pogo had been developed enough to be a feasible design the US Navy had lost interest in the aircraft, and the project was canceled.

©Original 35mm Kodachrome transparency
Lighter, lower, faster and costing less, the GM Aerotrain was ahead of its time. It rode on a bellows of air, and was fast - the center of gravity was very low. This is the first of two "Dream Trains" built, the T1. Again, somehow we lost interest. Love the styling! Designer: Chuck Jordan.

©Original 35mm Kodachrome transparency
The Regulus was the Navy's first sea-bourne nuclear deterrent. Essentially a small turbojet aircraft, 42 feet long, with a wingspan of 21 feet, and weighing in at just under seven tons, its Allison J33-A-14 engine could propel the missile to Mach 0.91 (about 550 knots). Either a 40-50 kiloton nuclear warhead or a 1-2 megaton thermonuclear device could be carried. POWERAMA!

These last two images taken from Life magazines archives, located on Google here.

7 comments:

  1. Amazing images. Love the Aerotrain...

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  2. Yes, these images are plenty amazing! Of course love the *diesel powered* larger than life type... and what a hoot the batch of elephants vs. the bulldozer. A priceless slice of vintage Americana. Great write-up, thank you for this!

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  3. Thank you for this post! My family took a trip to the Powerama when I was 6. Yes, I remember the elephant tug-of-war, and I got to run up the throttle on the Aerotrain. I remember a submarine docked nearby, and a cutaway jet engine. It was heaven for a 6-year old kid. We came home with a big box of swag which is long gone (along with my baseball cards). I've only had memories until I came across these photos doing a Google search. Wow. just... wow.

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  4. I too was there when I was 8. I still have the keychain. I remember the huge crowds and the train. The submarine may have been the U505 which I recall being rolled across Lake Shore drive on telephone poles to become an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. I no longer live in Chicago but I do recall Powerama.

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  5. My mother was one of the young ladies performing the Roman Ride horse shows. Her and many of her friends rode horses for The White Horse Ranch prior to this show. She remembers this as a fun time in her life. I have a short film one of the girls mothers took of the shows. The Square Dancing tractors are actually pretty cool.

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  6. I remember going to this when I was 7 years old, seeing the swimmers in the big truck, a walk through tour of a Shrimp boat. we went in my uncle's 1948 Ford Woody wagon, with a Tar Roof.

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  7. I remember the Allison Powerramas of the 1950s and 1960s, such magical places.

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