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World Fair Expo

For the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris, France produced an engineering marvel, the Eiffel Tower. Not to be outdone, America shot back with Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition and the debut of the Ferris wheel. Attendance at the world's fair topped one-third of the U.S. population.

Less than a century later, sparse crowds drove the 1984 New Orleans World's Fair into bankruptcy. The stature of expos in the U.S. plunged so low that in 2001 Washington essentially pulled out of the expo race by quitting its membership in the world organizing body.

That's not stopping Manuel Delgado from trying to organize a new one on U.S. shores. A marketing executive and Boy Scouts volunteer in Houston, he says hosting one of the international get-togethers would do wonders for America's image abroad.

"Let's face it, the whole world wants to bombard us with shoes, " he says, referring to the Iraqi reporter who hurled a shoe at President George W. Bush in Baghdad last year.

Mr. Delgado isn't alone. A group in Las Vegas is drafting plans for a U.S. expo with the theme "The Future of My Future, " which will showcase innovations in vaccines and energy production. In San Francisco, graphic designer and expo historian Urso Chappell has been agitating for several years to stage a follow-up to the city's 1915 fair, where visitors could float down a five-acre model of the new Panama Canal. So far, Mr. Chappell says he's made little headway.

"All roads to a world's fair in the U.S. are uphill, " says Mr. Delgado.

For starters, to host an officially sanctioned fair, a country must belong to the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions, or BIE. But the U.S. government left the 154-nation treaty organization, and rejoining would require federal legislation. An unauthorized expo could face a global boycott, as happened four decades ago in New York.

Act of Congress

Expo fans say the U.S. could win credibility as a host candidate if it has a national pavilion at the next big fair, opening in Shanghai on May 1, 2010. The catch: To cut spending, Congress a decade ago forbade federal funding of a pavilion.

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