World’s Columbian Exposition

The World’s Columbian Exposition was a world’s fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival to the New World in 1492. The fair was open for 6 months from May 1, 1893 to October 30, 1893 and boasted a total of 27,300,000 visitors.

The layout of the Chicago Columbian Exposition was, in large part, designed by John Wellborn Root, Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles B. Atwood. It was the prototype of what Burnham and his colleagues thought a perfect city should be. It was designed to follow Beaux Arts principles of design, namely French neoclassical architecture principles based on symmetry, balance, and splendor. The color of the material generally used to cover the buildings façades gave the fairgrounds its nickname, the White City. Many prominent architects designed its 14 “great buildings”. Artists and musicians were featured in exhibits and many also made depictions and works of art inspired by the exposition.

The exposition covered 690 acres and featured nearly 200 new (but deliberately temporary) buildings of predominantly neoclassical architecture, canals and lagoons, and people and cultures from 46 countries. The World’s Columbian Exposition’s scale and grandeur far exceeded the other world’s fairs.

Exposition entry tickets

The fair was planned in the early 1890s during the Gilded Age of rapid industrial growth, immigration, and class tension. World’s fairs, such as London’s 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition, had been successful in Europe as a way to bring together societies fragmented along class lines.

The first American attempt at a world’s fair in Philadelphia in 1876, drew crowds but was a financial failure. Nonetheless, ideas about distinguishing the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing started in the late 1880s. The exposition corporation and national exposition commission settled on Jackson Park and an area around it as the fair site in Chicago.

The fair opened in May and ran through October 30, 1893. Forty-six nations participated in the fair, constructing exhibits and pavilions and naming national “delegates”. The fair was originally meant to be closed on Sundays, but the Chicago Woman’s Club petitioned that it stay open. The club felt that if the exposition was closed on Sunday, it would restrict those who could not take off work during the work-week from seeing it.

The World’s Columbian Exposition was the first world’s fair with an area for amusements that was strictly separated from the exhibition halls. This area, developed by a young music promoter, Sol Bloom, concentrated on Midway Plaisance and introduced the term “midway” to American English to describe the area of a carnival or fair where sideshows are located. It included carnival rides, among them the original Ferris Wheel, built by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. This wheel was 264 feet tall and had 36 cars, each of which could accommodate 40 people.

Other attractions at the fair included:

  • Life-size reproductions of Christopher Columbus’ three ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria
  • A series of lectures on the Science of Animal Locomotion in the Zoopraxographical Hall. A zoopraxiscope was used to show moving pictures to a paying public, the hall was the first commercial movie theater.
  • An Anthropology Building featured “The Cliff Dwellers” a rock and timber structure that was painted to recreate Battle Rock Mountain in Colorado, a stylized recreation of American Indian cliff dwelling with pottery, weapons and other relics on display.
  • The “Street in Cairo” included the popular dancer known as Little Egypt. She introduced America to the suggestive version of the belly dance known as the “hootchy-kootchy”.
  • The first moving walkway or travelator. It had two different divisions: one where passengers were seated, and one where riders could stand or walk. It ran in a loop down the length of a lakefront pier to a casino.
The Viking, a replica of the Gokstad ship
  • Norway participated by sending the Viking, a replica of the Gokstad ship. It was built in Norway and sailed across the Atlantic by 12 men, led by Captain Magnus Andersen.
  • Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, where historian Frederick Jackson Turner gave academic lectures reflecting on the end of the frontier which Buffalo Bill represented.
  • The electrotachyscope of Ottomar Anschütz was demonstrated, which used a Geissler tube to project the illusion of moving images.
  • The German firm Krupp had a pavilion of artillery, which apparently had cost one million dollars to stage, including a coastal gun and a breech-loaded gun.
The Krupp Pavilion
  • Architect Kirtland Cutter’s Idaho Building, a rustic log construction, was a popular favorite. The building’s design and interior furnishings were a major precursor of the Arts and Crafts movement.
  • Horticultural exhibits at the Horticultural Hall included cacti and orchids as well as other plants in a greenhouse.
John Bull Locomotive
  • The John Bull locomotive was displayed. It was only 62 years old, having been built in 1831. And a Baldwin 2-4-2 locomotive was showcased
  • Among the other attractions at the fair, several products that are well known today were introduced: Juicy Fruit Gum, Cream of Wheat, and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer

Architecture was also an incredible draw for the Exposition. Most of the buildings of the fair were designed in the neoclassical architecture style. The area at the Court of Honor was known as The White City. Façades were made not of stone, but of a mixture of plaster, cement, and jute fiber called staff, which was painted white, giving the buildings their “gleam”. Architecture critics derided the structures as “decorated sheds”. The buildings were clad in white stucco, which, in comparison to the tenements of Chicago, seemed illuminated. It was also called the White City because of the extensive use of street lights, which made the boulevards and buildings usable at night.

The White City

Other great architectural installments include:

  • The Administration Building, designed by Richard Morris Hunt
  • The Agricultural Building, designed by Charles McKim of McKim, Mead & White
  • The Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, designed by George B. Post. If this building were standing today, it would rank second in volume and third in footprint on list of largest buildings (130,000m2, 8,500,000m3).
  • The Mines and Mining Building, designed by Solon Spencer Beman
  • The Electricity Building, designed by Henry Van Brunt and Frank Maynard Howe
  • The Machinery Hall, designed by Robert Swain Peabody of Peabody and Stearns
  • The Woman’s Building, designed by Sophia Hayden
Golden Arch at Louis Sullivan’s Transportation Building
  • The Transportation Building, designed by Adler & Sullivan
  • The Fisheries Building designed by Henry Ives Cobb
  • Forestry Building designed by Charles B. Atwood
  • Horticultural Building designed by Jenney and Mundie
  • Anthropology Building designed by Charles B. Atwood

Almost all of the fair’s structures were designed to be temporary; of the more than 200 buildings erected for the fair, the only two which still stand in place are the Palace of Fine Arts and the World’s Congress Auxiliary Building. Three other significant buildings survived the fair. The first is the Norway Building, a recreation of a traditional wooden stave church. After the Fair it was relocated to Lake Geneva, and in 1935 was moved to a museum called Little Norway in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. In 2015 it was dismantled and shipped back to Norway, where it was restored and reassembled. The second is the Maine State Building, designed by Charles Sumner Frost, which was purchased by the Ricker family of Poland Spring, Maine. They moved the building to their resort to serve as a library and art gallery. The third is the Dutch House, which was moved to Brookline, Massachusetts.

The White City on Fire

Since many of the other buildings at the fair were intended to be temporary, they were removed after the fair. The White City so impressed visitors (at least before air pollution began to darken the façades) that plans were considered to refinish the exteriors in marble or some other material. These plans were abandoned in July 1894, when much of the fair grounds was destroyed in a fire.

The fair garnered many famous visitors and performers such as:

  • Helen Keller, along with her mentor Anne Sullivan.
  • Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, visited the fair in summer of 1893.
  • A Wellesley College English teacher named Katharine Lee Bates visited the fair. The White City later inspired the reference to “alabaster cities” in her poem “America the Beautiful”.
  • The Exposition was extensively reported by Chicago publisher William D. Boyce‘s reporters and artists.
  • There is a very detailed and vivid description of all facets of this fair by the Persian traveler Mirza Mohammad Ali Mo’in ol-Saltaneh written in Persian. He departed from Persia on April 20, 1892, especially for the purpose of visiting the World’s Columbian Exposition.
  • Pierre de Coubertin visited the fair with his friends Paul Bourget and Samuel Jean de Pozzi. He devotes the first chapter of his book ” Souvenirs d’Amérique et de Grèce ” (1897) to the visit.
  • Scott Joplin, pianist, from Texarkana, Texas; became widely known for his piano playing at the fair.
  • Swami Vivekananda visited the fair to attend the Parliament of the World’s Religions and delivered his famous speech “Sisters and Brothers of America!”.
  • Sissieretta Jones, a soprano known as “the Black Patti” and an already-famous opera singer performed at the fair
  • Kubota Beisen was an official delegate of Japan. As an artist, he sketched hundreds of scenes, some of which were later used to make woodblock print books about the Exhibition.
  • Serial Killer Herman Mudgett (H. H. Holmes) attended the fair with two of his victims, Annie and Minnie Williams.
  • Joseph Douglass, classical violinist, who achieved wide recognition after his performance there and became the first African-American violinist to conduct a transcontinental tour and the first to tour as a concert violinist.

The fair also had hundreds of artists featured. From painters, sculptors, and a feature on women’s artists. To list or delve into those talents is beyond the scope of this post.

Mayor Carter Harrison

The fair ended with the city in shock, as popular mayor Carter Harrison, Sr. was assassinated by Patrick Eugene Prendergast two days before the fair’s closing. Closing ceremonies were canceled in favor of a public memorial service.

After the fair closed, J.C. Rogers, a banker from Wamego, Kansas, purchased several pieces of art that had hung in the rotunda of the U.S. Government Building. He also purchased architectural elements, artifacts and buildings from the fair. He shipped his purchases to Wamego. Many of the items, including the artwork, were used to decorate his theater, now known as the Columbian Theatre. Although not available for purchase, The George Washington University maintains a small collection of exposition tickets for viewing and research purposes. The collection is currently cared for by GWU’s Special Collections Research Center, located in the Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library.

Examples of exposition souvenirs can be found in various American museum collections as a way for everyone to remember the incredible World’s Columbian Exposition. One example, copyrighted in 1892 by John W. Green, is a folding hand fan with detailed illustrations of landscapes and architecture. Charles W Goldsmith produced a set of ten postcard designs, each in full colour, showing the buildings constructed for the exhibition. Columbian Exposition coins were also minted for the event. Similarly, the first pressed penny souvenir was a featured exhibit.

The Columbian Exposition has celebrated many anniversaries since the fair in 1893. The Chicago Historical Society held an exhibition to commemorate the fair. The Grand Illusions exhibition was centered around the idea that the Columbian Exposition was made up of a series of illusions. The commemorative exhibition contained partial reconstructions, a video detailing the fair, and a catalogue similar to the one sold at the World’s Fair of 1893.


For More Posts on the World’s Fairs:
The World’s Fair | A History
Seattle’s Architectural Icon: The Space Needle
A History of Pressed Pennies
The Columbian Exposition Coin that Challenged the Way a Nation Views Women
The First Commemorative Stamps
T
he 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Through Vintage Postcards
The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair Exposition Seen Through Vintage Postcards


The Columbian Exposition Coin that Challenged the Way a Nation Views Women

In 1893 the commemorative Isabella quarter was struck. The Board of Lady Managers of the World’s Columbian Exposition requested authorization of the coin by congress. The quarter depicts the Spanish queen Isabella I of Castile, who sponsored Columbus’s voyages to the New World. It was designed by Bureau of the Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber, and is the only U.S. commemorative of that denomination that was not intended for circulation.

Bertha Palmer

The Board of Lady Managers whom requested the coin was headed by Bertha Palmer, whose husband Potter owned the Palmer House, the leading hotel in Chicago. The decisions of the Lady Managers were often reversed by their male counterparts on controversial matters: for example, Palmer sought to shut the fair’s “Egyptian Girls” dancing show after deeming it obscene. The show was one of the exposition’s few successful moneymakers, and the Lady Managers were overruled by the men who voted to keep it open.

At the insistence of women’s advocate, Susan B. Anthony, in 1890, authorization for the Board of Lady Managers to create this coin was granted. Anthony’s goal with this project was to show that women could successfully assist in the management of the fair. Thus, the Lady Managers sought a coin to sell in competition with the commemorative half dollar at the Exposition. When the half dollar appeared in November 1892, the Lady Managers considered it inartistic and determined to do better. Palmer wanted the Lady Managers “to have credit of being the authors of the first really beautiful and artistic coin that has ever been issued by the government of the United States”.

Palmer approached the House Appropriations Committee, asking that $10,000 of the funds already designated to be paid over to the Lady Managers by the federal government be in the form of souvenir quarters, which they could sell at a premium. Congress passed an act authorising the souvenir coin on March 3, 1893. The act required that the design had to be approved by the Secretary of the Treasury and that the total mintage of the special quarter would be limited to 40,000.

With approval for the coin, with albiet a small mintage, Palmer set out to produce a beautiful coin. Palmer asked artist Kenyon Cox to produce sketches, she was, however, determined to have a woman actually design the coin. She also consulted with Sara Hallowell, who was both the secretary to the fair’s Director of Fine Arts and was helping the Palmers amass a major art collection. Hallowell contacted sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who recommended his onetime student, Caroline Peddle, who was already engaged in exposition work, having been commissioned by Tiffany’s to produce an exhibit. Palmer agreed to have Peddle do the work.

On March 14, 1893, Edward O. Leech, the Director of the Bureau of the Mint, wrote to Palmer. He asserted that it was encouraged for the design process to be kept in-house at the mint. Palmer replied that the Lady Managers had already decided that the quarter would bear a portrait of Isabella I, Queen of Castile. She also stated that she was consulting artists and suggested that the Mint submit a design for consideration.


Peddle’s sketch

Finally, Palmer officially hired Peddle to do the design work. She instructed the artist that the coin was to have a figure of Isabella on the obverse, and the inscription “Commemorative coin issued for the Board of Lady Managers of the World’s Columbian Exposition by Act of Congress, 1492–1892” on the reverse, as well as the denomination and the name of the country. The chairwoman did not request that Peddle provide the Lady Managers with the design before sending it to the Mint. The secretary at the Mint said that the long inscription, would appear like a business advertising token, and he asked that it be revised. The Lady Managers, instead would likely have an outside sculptor create the obverse and the Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber to create some designs for the reverse for possible use.

But, Peddle had already designed the coin with Palmer’s previous instructions and sent the sketches to the Mint with the long inscription. The Mint was unhappy with the reverse and officially appointed Barber to design that side of the coin. The Mint also reported that Isabella’s legs would appear distorted if the seated figure were used and advocated a head in profile.  Peddle was informed that Barber would produce the reverse, though the design would be sent to her for approval, and she would have to change her obverse. Meanwhile, Palmer was growing increasingly anxious: with a timeline of two months from design approval to the availability of the actual coins, she feared that the pieces would not be available for sale until well into the fair’s May to October run. Under pressure from all sides, Peddle threatened to quit the project, writing that she “could not consent to do half of a piece of work”.

Two letters dated on April 7 from the Mint to Peddle asserted that the right as Mint director to prescribe coin designs, and told Peddle that the obverse would be a head of Isabella, while the reverse would be based on sketches by a Mint engraver which she would be free to model. The second letter, imposed the additional requirement that Isabella not wear a crown, which was deemed inappropriate on an American coin. And unfortunately, on April 8, 1893, Caroline Peddle withdrew from the project.

The Mint informed Palmer of Peddle’s resignation and Palmer lamented on their inability to work together. Palmer suggested an alternative to the inscription reverse, for the coin depict the Women’s Building at the fair. Barber prepared sketches and rejected the idea, stating that the building would appear a mere streak on the coin in the required low relief. Barber favored a sketch from Assistant Engraver George T. Morgan, showing a kneeling woman spinning flax, with a distaff in her hands. Others were not fully satisfied with the proposal, stating that the juxtaposition of Isabella on the obverse and the Morgan reverse was “too much woman”. Barber tackled the project of producing his own reverse designs which portrayed various uses of a heraldic eagle. The eagle designs were briefly considered but eventually Morgan’s designs were accepted stating that,  “the distaff is used in art to symbolize patient industry, and especially the industry of women.”

Curator at the University of Pennsylvania, Stewart Cullin, possessed a number of medals depicting Isabella, and former general Oliver O. Howard was engaged in writing a biography of the late queen and possessed likenesses of her. It was agreed that these men be consulted for the Isabella design. Still the Mint was reluctant to allow an inscription which made distinctions by sex, such as “Board of Lady Managers”, to appear on the coin, but it was eventually approved.

Palmer was sent a box containing two plaster models of the obverse, one of Isabella as a young queen, the other showing her more mature. Along with the models was a letter that informed her that the distaff reverse would be used. The obverse models were supposedly made by Barber based on an engraving of Isabella forwarded by Peddle to the Mint at Palmer’s request, but Moran suggests that the period of only a day between receipt of the engraving and completion of the models means that Barber was working on them before that. The Board of Lady Managers on May 5 selected the design of the young queen.

The coins final design was fairly well received regardless of the hardships to get to the final product. Many of the Lady Managers were overall discouraged by the process and that they were unable to have their full vision for the coin realized.

The World’s Fair | A History

The World’s Fair is a large public exhibition embedded in rich cultural tradition.  Originating in Paris with the industrial revolution, these grand expositions soon spread to continental Europe and the United Kingdom before making their mark across the world.  The grandfather fair, reverently referred to as the “Great Exhibition” was Prince Albert’s proposal to model regionally manufactured products in order to induce international trade and relations, buoy tourism and propagate art and design education.  The structure and ideology of this 1851 fair offered a clear precedent for the World’s Fair and it has continued to attract millions world-wide today.  The 2015 World’s Fair is being held in Milan, Italy.

Great_Exhibition_fountain_1851

While culture sharing has always been and remains vital, the development of the World’s Fair can be distinguished in three Eras of characteristic evolution: Industrialization, Cultural Exchange and Nation Branding.

The Industrial Era, which lasted roughly from 1800 to 1938 focused heavily on trade and boasted technological inventions and industrial design in a rapidly advancing technological world.  Modern technologies were brought together from all over the world marking momentous occasions in historical information sharing.  Expositions such as the Philadelphia 1876 Centennial Exhibition with the debut of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and Chicago 1893 Fair presenting the early dishwasher became landmarks of advancement, procuring a progressive image of the World’s Fair.

During the Era of Cultural Exchange, beginning with New York’s 1939 World Fair, themed “Building a Better Tomorrow”, expositions took on diverging cultural themes, anticipating a bright future.  The focus of fairs became less about specific technologies and more about intercultural communication for the exchange and growth of innovation.  As cultural recognition and societal strength became of greater importance, the Era of Nation Branding began.

Countries began to use the World’s Fair as a platform to strengthen their national images through branding and architecture.  Great pavilions were erected and stand today as representations of great nations such as Japan, Canada, Finland and Spain.  Stunning architecture and nation branding required solid financial investment and thus, several nations shied away from hosting Expositions, fearing that the cost would outweigh the benefits.  The 2000 Dutch Exposition pavilion cost an approximate €35 million, but is thought to have brought in €350 million in turn for a thriving Dutch economy.

The World’s Fair has seen much evolution over the course of two hundred years and today embodies the characteristic of all three Eras.  Each fair presents the newest technologies including art and architecture while fostering cultural networking and bolstering a reputably positive national image. One of the few lasting, globally impacting traditions of our Earth, the World’s Fair is a magnificent opportunity for individuals, communities, cultures and societies to reach out as a part of an ever-evolving humanity.

The 1907 Jamestown Exposition

In 1607, Jamestown was founded in Virginia. And three hundred years later, the U.S. wanted to commemorate the famous event. Event planners thought it impossible to set up the exposition at the original site of Jamestown; the area was abandoned and not geographically convenient for large volumes of visitors. Because of this, the site of Norfolk was eventually decided on. Norfolk, Virginia sits close enough to Jamestown and is today a large, thriving city.

Event planners set the location of the exposition at Sewell’s Point, a beautiful location but a difficult one to construct on because of its isolation. They had to build roads just to get to the site! This foreshadowed a number of different preparation issues. Most difficult of all, Fitzhugh Lee, the Governor of Virginia and president of the Norfolk City Council, died in 1905 while working on the project.

The Exposition opened on April 26, 1907, exactly three hundred years after colonists first landed in Virginia. Similar to other World Fairs in the past, the Jamestown Exposition had a rough start. On opening day, only one fifth of the lights were able to turn on, and multiple buildings and sites were not completed. Constructors even failed to finish two buildings by the exposition’s end. But President Theodore Roosevelt himself personally opened the exposition!

Founding_of_Jamestown_3_stamps_1907_issue

A difficult start didn’t have to forebode a bad exposition – though setbacks did continue. Attendance never achieved projected numbers after the opening day, and the fair did not make enough to pay back a million dollar loan.

But the show did have its successes. One of the most popular was the recreation of the Battle of Hampton Roads, a battle between the warships USS Monitor and CSS Virginia. This epic battle between ships was one of the changing points for Virginia in the 17th century; the exposition built a whole building around the model. Military prowess was a common theme for the exposition, which some visitors protested.

Overall, the exposition was not a big success. It lost several million dollars thanks to a much lower attendance than expected. Too much ambition and poor planning ended up being the exposition’s downfall.

However, some great postcards came out of it! If you’re interested in vintage Jamestown Exposition postcards, you can find them here.

The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Through Vintage Postcards

In the 1930’s, people were fascinated by technological advances. So it stands to reason that the motto of Chicago’s 1933 World’s Fair was “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms”. Throughout the fair visitors could find exhibits that replicated scientific discoveries and the inventions resulting from them.

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Chicago ran the fair on Lake Michigan.

It honored the first Chicago World’s fair in 1893 by constructing a “Rainbow City” – an ode to the World’s Columbian Exposition’s “White City”. The Rainbow City featured late Art Deco-style architecture.

The fair also featured questionable displays, like a hall of incubators with real babies inside them. They wanted to feature this new, life saving incubator technology, but did they really have to put live babies inside them?

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The fair introduced a Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition that showed what homes of the future would look like. With a growing interest in domestic ease in the U.S., the exhibition was a hit. Some homes even featured helicopter pads. Many people bought plans for the houses and later used them to construct their own.

The fair saw so much success that it had a second opening from May 26 to October 31, 1934.

The fair was remembered way past its 1934 end date. The city added a fourth red star to its flag to remember the exposition.