World's Fair: Columbian Exposition

WORLD'S FAIRS

 

A World's Fair is a large public exhibition of manufactured products, new inventions, and art, as well as exhibits to promote tourism and cultural understanding; and much more—music, food, and entertainments.  The first World's Fair was the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace at Hyde Park, London in 1851, hosted by Queen Victoria and the brainchild of her husband, Prince Albert.

Since then, there have been 52 World's Fairs held in 13 countries, including 16 in the United States. The last three have been hosted by Japan, Spain, and China.  The next two will be hosted by South Korea (2012) and Italy (2015). 

The Columbian Exposition was an 1893 World's Fair held in Chicago.  It was the third in the United States, following the Philadelphia (1876) and New Orleans (1884) World's Fairs—the 6th and 10th worldwide respectively.  New Orleans was the last US city to host a World's Fair in 1984.

THE COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION LIT UP WITH ELECTRIC LIGHTS
THE COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION LIT UP WITH ELECTRIC LIGHTS

CHICAGO WORLD'S FAIR 1893


Charles Wacker was named the Director of the Chicago World's Fair. He appointed a team of Lady Managers—put in charge of morals. Chicago was the most violent city in America at the time. It was a lawless, dirty, smelly city but it did everything in a big way. Chicago was a city of business, manufacturing, and agriculture. It boasted the world's biggest stockyards; a billion lbs of beef were processed per year in its slaughterhouses.

The designer of Central Park in New York, Frederick Law Olmstead, was hired to select the site of the Chicago World's Fair, as well as to design the landscape. He picked a swamp. The Columbian Exposition was to be built around water—inspired by Venice—on 700 acres of swampland. Most of the site is now Jackson Park. The lagoon that was built for the World's Fair is still there; as is the wooded island built to house the exhibit of Japan.

THE LIBERTY BELL ON DISPLAY AT THE COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
THE LIBERTY BELL ON DISPLAY AT THE COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
KRUPP CANNON AT GERMANY EXHIBIT, CHICAGO WORLD'S FAIR: COLUMBIAN EXHIBITION 1893
KRUPP CANNON AT GERMANY EXHIBIT, CHICAGO WORLD'S FAIR: COLUMBIAN EXHIBITION 1893
JAPAN EXHIBIT, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
JAPAN EXHIBIT, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION

COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION


The largest building in the world was constructed to house the Manufacturer Exhibits. The biggest chorus in the world sang with 2,500 singers. The Columbian Exposition featured displays of 22,000lbs of cheese; 50,000 roses; and 1,000,000 tulips. Replicas of the Brooklyn Bridge and Windsor Castle were made out of soap. The main buildings were covered with veneers that looked like marble. Spray paint was invented to solve the problem of colorizing the enormous buildings.

Each state of the union had its own building. Montana exhibited a statue made of pure silver. Another state had a Statue of Liberty made entirely of salt. There was a St Louis Arch made of sugar. The actual Liberty Bell was brought from Philadelphia for display. The California exhibit featured a functioning fountain of wine. And there was a mini-Europe.

46 nations exhibited at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, which was the first to have national pavilions. Fredrick Douglass represented Haiti. The Columbian Exposition inspired the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz; and the Epcot Center at Walt Disney World. Walt Disney's father was among the workers who constructed the Columbian Exposition.

France and Germany were the big spenders among countries that mounted exhibits—both spent millions of dollars. The Kaiser displayed the Crown Jewels of Germany. The German exhibit also had the Krupp Cannon—the world's largest. France built a working fountain of perfume.

Spain was provided an honored place at the Fair and displayed the jewels of Ferdinand and Isabella. The Spanish also built and sailed replicas of Columbus' ships to Chicago.  

For most Americans, the Columbian Exposition was the first exposure to Arab, Turkish, and Japanese people.  Japan spent $630,000 on its exhibit, which proved to be very popular.

The Manufacturers Building was 540,000 square feet—a monument to American ingenuity and commerce. It was lit by 10,000 electric lights and used three times more electricity than the city of Chicago. The Columbian Exposition in total used 120,000 electric lights—it was the brightest thing ever on earth.

OPIUM OPENLY SMOKED AT THE EXHIBIT OF CHINA, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
OPIUM OPENLY SMOKED AT THE EXHIBIT OF CHINA, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
FERRIS WHEEL, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
FERRIS WHEEL, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
THE MIDWAY, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
THE MIDWAY, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
PEOPLE OF DAHOMEY, AFRICA, ON PARADE AT THE COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
PEOPLE OF DAHOMEY, AFRICA, ON PARADE AT THE COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
THE WHITE CITY, CHICAGO, BURNED DOWN BY UNION RUFFIANS
THE WHITE CITY, CHICAGO, BURNED DOWN BY UNION RUFFIANS
THE FAMOUS EXOTIC DANCER, LITTLE EGYPT
THE FAMOUS EXOTIC DANCER, LITTLE EGYPT
CHICAGO WORLD'S FAIR: COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
CHICAGO WORLD'S FAIR: COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION

THE CHICAGO WORLD'S FAIR 1893

The Columbian Exposition saw the introduction of many new products including Vaseline, Cracker Jack, Aunt Jemima, Juicy Fruit Gum, Quaker Oats, Cream of Wheat, Shredded Wheat, the Hamburger, and Chili Con Carne; as well as hula dancers and Ragtime music. Its Beer Gardens were open only to men, and the Machinery Hall was the loudest thing on this planet—beyond human endurance. The largest telescope in the world was also displayed—65ft long.  Nearby stood a 65ft Lady Liberty.

Thomas Edison spent $500,000 on his display—as much as Britain—which featured a tower of light and a kinetoscope—the earliest motion pictures.  Edison's extravagance was due to the fact that he lost the bid to provide power and lighting for the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 to his archrival, Westinghouse. Nikola Tesla was put in charge of the lighting and power by Westinghouse.

The Ferris Wheel built for the Chicago World's Fair was the largest ever built. It was designed by George Ferris and featured 36 huge cars that held 60 people each. This proved to be the top attraction at the Columbian Exposition. It grossed $750,000 at 50 cents a ride. The axle alone for the Ferris Wheel was the largest piece of steel ever forged. The same Ferris Wheel was used at the St Louis World's Fair in 1904.

The Midway Plaisance was a mile long—and remains a recognizable feature of Chicago. The Midway was lined on both sides with low-brow fare that proved to be more popular with the crowds than the main exposition. The Midway was full of music, dancing, and animals. The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 was the first with a separate area designated for amusements.

A very popular attraction on the Midway was the dancer "Little Egypt" at the Cairo exhibit. Even more popular with men were the naughty girls who danced the hootchy kootchy at the Algeria exhibit.

The Chicago Bears football team is called the "Monsters of the Midway" today because their home stadium, Soldier Field, was later built where the World's Fair Midway ended.

The Dahomey Village drew huge crowds. Sedan Chairs were seen cruising up and down the Midway. An Ice Railway was built. Rides in hot air balloons were offered until one crashed. 

Fair planners thought the 114-piece symphony orchestra would be a big draw but few came to hear it. The acoustics were poor and fair-goers favored popular music to classical. Exotic music also did well.

Buffalo Bill's enormously popular Wild West Show with Annie Oakley was not included in the Chicago World's Fair as it was too low-brow for the fair's organizers. So Buffalo Bill set up his show next door to the Columbian Exposition and made tremendous profits that he did not have to share with the management of the World's Fair. 

The worst tragedy of the Chicago World's Fair occurred when the ice building (cold storage) burnt down and 17 firefighters were killed as they fought the blaze.

The Palace of Fine Arts was the only fire-proof building—because of the value of the paintings being exhibited. It was also one of two buildings designed to be permanent, and today houses the resplendent Museum of Science and Industry. The other permanent building was for the World Congress, currently the Art Institute of Chicago. The rest of the buildings of the Chicago World's Fair were burned to the ground in 1894 by union members involved the Pullman Strike.

The Columbian Exposition was plagued by con men and pickpockets. The popular mayor of Chicago, Carter Harrison, was assassinated two days before the World's Fair ended, which cast a gloom over the closing festivities. 


OPENING DAY CROWD, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
OPENING DAY CROWD, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
SYRIAN BEDOUINS, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
SYRIAN BEDOUINS, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION

WORLD'S FAIR


The World's Fair is the descendent of the Trade Fairs of the Middle Ages. Chicago was chosen over New York City by Congress to host the 1893 World's Fair. The city planned and organized the Columbian Exposition without federal assistance.

The Chicago World's Fair was named the Columbian Exposition in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbus landing in the New World, but was a year late when it opened in 1893. Confidant Chicago claimed they could build the fair in one year but it took two. The New York media responded to Chicago's claim by naming it the "windy city," in other words they believed the claimant to be "gas bags, full of hot air." The name stuck.

Columbus was widely admired as a huge hero—he had not yet been demonized by the New Left. That happened nearly 100 years later as public school history textbooks were rewritten to denigrate Western Civilization and glorify the Third World to soften up future citizens for worldwide Socialism by making America appear in children's eyes as not worth defending.

INDIA EXHIBIT, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
INDIA EXHIBIT, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION: VENETIAN GONDOLAS
COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION: VENETIAN GONDOLAS
SAMOAN VILLAGE, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
SAMOAN VILLAGE, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION

COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION


The Chicago World's Fair drew an opening day crowd of 300,000—the largest gathering of human beings at any one place in US history. The Columbian Exposition was the 12th World's Fair and the biggest yet by far. It became known as The White City.

40,000 workers built the Columbian Exposition, which cost $22 million—several billion of today's dollars. This was welcome relief to the workers in Chicago because the Panic of 1893 was the most severe depression ever in the United States. 500 banks and 15,000 businesses failed. Unemployment rose to 18 percent for the first time in US history.

28 million visitors came through the turnstiles during the six month run of the Chicago World's Fair. The population of the United States was only 65 million.

Unlike previous World's Fairs, the Columbian Exposition was not created using government money. As is typical for Chicago, it chose to go its own way. The Columbian Exposition used private capital and therefore, naturally, became the first Worlds' Fair to turn a profit.

WINDMILL EXHIBITION, 1893 COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
WINDMILL EXHIBITION, 1893 COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
INTERIOR VIEW OF ONE EXHIBIT HALL, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
INTERIOR VIEW OF ONE EXHIBIT HALL, COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
WORLD'S FAIR: COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION
WORLD'S FAIR: COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION

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Comments 26 comments

Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 5 years ago

I LOVE THIS! Chicago has always known how to throw a party......... this was indeed a beauty. Right in my own backyard,and a few years before my time :-D

I'm happy to know that they built my favorite place in the city to last; the Art Institute is the best of places- a place I only share with the people I love.

Fabulous Hub- Thanks~ Kaie


Jeff May profile image

Jeff May 5 years ago from St. Louis

Not nearly as good as the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair however. (Historical Fiction for you?)


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago Author

Kaie Arwen-- Thank you for being my first visitor!! These photographs do indeed portray a beautiful event, don't they? Yea, it was just a bit before my time as well.

I have been to the Art Institute of Chicago twice. Magnificent!

I am well pleased that you approve of my choice of subject and that you appreciate the article. I always enjoy hearing your voice. And you are most welcome. :D


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago Author

Jeff May-- I recently watched film documentaries on both World's Fairs-Chicago 1893 and St Louis 1904.

I haven't tackled any fiction yet. But I am thinking about it.

Thank you for visiting and commenting. :D


heart4theword profile image

heart4theword 5 years ago from hub

The Columbian Exposition..is quite involved. Much money to put that together. Can always count on you, to provide another interesting hub!


sherrylou57 profile image

sherrylou57 5 years ago from Riverside

Nice hub James, Thank you for sharing this hub!


stars439 profile image

stars439 5 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

Wonderful Hub, And Fantastic pictures. Great writing. God Bless You My Precious Friend.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States

This is an excellent hub with all the historical details and pictures. I really enjoyed reading this hub. God Bless.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago Author

heart4theword-- It was quite an undertaking. That's for sure. I am glad you found this story to be interesting. Thank you for taking the time to read it.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago Author

sherrylou57-- You are welcome. Thank you for the compliment. It is always good to see you.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago Author

stars439-- Thank you! Thank you, brother, for the accolades. I appreciate your warm words. And God Bless You!!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago Author

Pamela99-- I'm glad you enjoyed it. I thought it made for an interesting story and a bit off the beaten trail for me. Thank you. :)


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

Excellent topic James. The time, expense and just plain old grandeur of these expositions was just awesome.You've written and formatted this hub perfectly. By the way, if I'm not mistaken, Houdini got his start at the 1893 Chicago fair.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

James - This is a wonderful exploration of the Chicago World's Fair. I grew up in Chicago - no, not in 1893 - and I didn't know all these marvelous details - like the fact that the Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute were originally built as permanent structures for the Fair.

Thank you for making me knowledgeable about facts I should have known.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago Author

Alastar Packer-- Welcome to the Hub Pages Community! I look forward to reading your Hubs.

You know, I think you are right that Houdini got his start at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Thank you for that great addition. I sincerely appreciate this visit and your gracious compliments.


no body profile image

no body 5 years ago from Rochester, New York

I like small grocerers. I like small towns. I like small carnivals. I am just a little man that thinks small I guess, scared away by the crowds and noise. This is wonderful to read about but I get the feeling that I get more reading your article than I would if I actually went to that event.


ama83 profile image

ama83 5 years ago from San Jose, CA

Amazing! I wish I had the chance to go to a World Fair. I don't even seem to go to regular fair (I get sick on the rides!). I think I would enjoy a World Fair. It would feel like traveling without having to get on a plane :)


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

Wow, a great work and fascinating subject. Gongratulation. Love those old pictures.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago Author

drbj— You are surely welcome. I appreciate your ongoing encouragement of my work by showing up regularly to read it and give me your thoughts on it. The feedback you provide is most helpful to me. Thank you!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago Author

no body— I was born in a small town; and I can breathe in a small town; Gonna die in a small town; Ah, that's prob'ly where they'll bury me.

Thank you, Bob, for coming to visit me. I am always glad when you do.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago Author

ama83— The World's Fair is definitely like traveling to faraway places without leaving the Fair. It reminds me of an old lyric: "I took a trip and never left the farm!" :D

It is good to hear from you again. I hope all is well.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago Author

Hello, hello,— I love those old pictures too! Thank you for your kind compliments. You never fail to brighten up my day when you come by.


aylaeh 5 years ago

i grew up about 3 hours away from chicago. my family has souvenirs from this world's fair. plus, i read Devil in the White City several years ago. Eric Larsen did an excellent job describing what was going on in chicago when the city was getting ready for the world's fair.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago Author

ayleah— I am familiar with that book. I have heard from one who has read it that it is excellent. Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I appreciate your comments.


Nicole 4 years ago

Nice work, James. I may borrow your line about Columbus/kids/schools. Still amazed by all that was accomplished. The architecture was stunning. Shame that it was destroyed by individuals whose egos couldn't bare staring at the embodiment what happens when supreme talent and a strong work ethos are left alone.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 4 years ago from Chicago Author

Nicole— Thank you for the kind compliments. Feel free to borrow any of my lines you see fit. :D

The World's Fair Columbian Exposition was chock full of amazing accomplishments.

I love your line about the deconstruction of the achievements of Western Civilization. I appreciate this visitation from you and your outstandingly brilliant remarks.

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