Environmental History 
of the Spokane River


Expo ‘74 would become the first environmentally themed World's Fair, and Spokane would become the smallest city to host the World’s Fair until Knoxville, Tennessee in 1982. In preparation for the fair, the city of Spokane cleaned up the heavily polluted Spokane River and created official fairgrounds for the event, which would later be called Riverfront Park. President Richard Nixon welcomed all visitors on May 4, 1974, the opening day of the fair.

The United States Pavilion during a fireworks show at the 1974 World's Fair. Gonzaga University Digital Archives.

With Spokane Falls as its backdrop, Expo '74 attracted visitors from around the globe, as well as national committees and corporations. The fair hosted national pavilions for Japan, Canada, Iran, West Germany, the USSR, and more. Each national pavilion showcased a variety of environmentally-themed films, sculptures, and other art, as well as technology and cultural representations. The fair also hosted corporate pavilions for Bell, Ford, Kodak, General Motors, and General Electric, which all showcased how their products bring people closer to the environment.

The 35,000 visitors that attended each day could visit gardens and theaters, ride a gondola over Spokane Falls, attend pavilions, and learn about environmental issues facing the United States and the world. One of the more popular attractions at Expo '74 was the first-ever IMAX theater at the United States Pavilion, which showed the film, "Man belongs to the Earth." The USSR Pavilion was the largest at Expo '74, and the Soviets showcased their state's ability to preserve natural resources. Though environmental panels and events were plentiful at the fair, they were attended by a notably low amount of visitors compared to pavilions that showcased technology and entertainment.

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