The story of the golden key

Image of Council President and Acting New York City Mayor Vincent Impellitteri and Park Commissioner Robert Moses presenting a golden key to Secretary-General Trygve Lie.


On 23 October 1946, the second session of the General Assembly, but the first one to be held in New York City, opened in Flushing Meadows, Queens.

The United Nations was slightly more than one year old, and the location of the permanent Headquarters had yet to be decided. In the interim, the Organization needed a large space to accommodate the hundreds of attendees to the General Assembly.

New York City came to the rescue by offering the use of its former World’s Fair building in Queens. The 1939 New York World's Fair saw more than 45 million visitors, many of whom entered this building to see the exhibits on the functions of the city. When it was over, the building was converted into a recreation centre with skating rinks until being offered to the United Nations in April 1946.

The first General Assembly in New York had “One World” as its theme. To emphasize this fact, a large map of the world in blue and gold was installed behind the President of the General Assembly’s rostrum.

Over the next few months, the building was refurbished to accommodate 2,400 delegates, Secretariat staff, reporters and members of the public.

Outside, the flags of the then 51 Member States were put on the longest poles which could be procured and placed in a large circle. That way, no nation could complain that its flag was behind the flag of another. Approximately 120,000 flowers were planted in Flushing Meadows, close to the building’s location, as part of landscaping improvements.

Although the General Assembly was scheduled to open in September, the opening was pushed back by one month to October. The United Nations took possession of the building in an official ceremony a few days before its opening. There, Acting New York City Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri and Park Commissioner Robert Moses presented a golden key to Secretary-General Trygve Lie to symbolize the transfer.

This “Key to the City” remains in the United Nations Archives to this day.





Originally published in UN Intranet (iSeek)
8 November 2023