Visions of the Future for “Third Century America” at the 1976 Bicentennial Exposition on Science and Technology

Senior Capstone Experience by Katy Shenk ’21

Submitted to the Department of History

Advised by Professor Janet Sorrentino

Description: In 1976, the White House organized a science and technology exposition in conjunction with the Bicentennial celebration, or the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution. While the majority of Bicentennial programming focused on the past, this exposition—officially titled “Third Century America”—called attention to the next 100 years of American progress through exhibits that focused on the future. For three months in the summer of 1976 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, 16 federal government agencies and 10 industrial firms hosted exhibits in geodesic domes that forecasted the future of science and technology. Similar to World’s Fairs and other futuristic exhibitions, “Third Century America” was revealing of and responded to present-day concerns of 1970s America. Through a close analysis of the planning, execution, and the displays of this Bicentennial Exposition on Science and Technology, this paper will argue that concerns about forward-progress, faith in the federal government, and the nation’s ability to solve pressing environmental problems were reflected in this vision—and competing agendas—for the future. As a Bicentennial event, the Expo served to reassert the role of the future in the Bicentennial (and the 1970s), generate faith in the federal government’s ability to solve current problems of dependency and resource consumption, and reinforce the belief that science, technology, and American values would secure a “Third Century of Progress under a Free Government.”

Read Katy’s SCE below:

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