Boston's Bicentennial Blues: How the Unraveling of Boston's Expo '76 Revealed America's Crisis of Confidence, 1967-1976

Student Author(s)

Cullen Smith

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Natalie Dykstra, English

Document Type


Event Date



On September 9th, 1969, eight members of Boston's city council voted unanimously against a proposed Bicentennial exposition of grand proportion. For more than three years, Boston's public planners had fought to establish Expo '76, the ambitious urban project, as a proposal for a World's Fair exposition within America's Bicentennial year. Council members stated that the site of the exposition was "unsuitable" and that the exposition's financing scheme was not in the "best interests" of the city of Boston. Superficially, it appeared that financial misgiving or poor timing was the cause of the panel's decision. But there was more to the decision than that. Boston's malaise over its proposed commemorative exposition serves as a case study of America's soul searching throughout its Bicentennial years. My research elaborated upon the unexplored story of 1976 Boston's Bicentennial celebration. By producing a scholarly paper and accompanying website, this project provided a 21st-century lens upon which to view the Bicentennial and its context in 20th-century American history. My project was a thematic extension of my previous research, as I transitioned from exploring the Vietnam War's impact upon Holland to one on a larger national scale: Boston. This project highlighted the impact of the Vietnam War, but more importantly, it explored the emphasis placed on recovery instead of disillusionment during this era. It was my intention to answer the question: "To what degree did the preparation and execution of Boston's Bicentennial celebrations reflect or deflect a national atmosphere of disillusionment?"


This material is based upon work supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the GLCA.

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