1858 Philadelphia US – Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition

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1858 Philadelphia

Name:Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition
Dates:10 May – 10 Nov
Days:184 days
Venue:Fairmount Park – 115 ha (284 acres)
Theme:International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine.
Exhibitors:30,864 from 34 countries, 20 colonies – including nine country pavilions, 250 smaller buildings – 24 state buildings were erected, each in a regional style – the Ohio Pavilion is extant
Awards:All exhibitors received the same bronze medal for their participation
Visitors:9,789,000, 8m paid the admission of 50c
Legacy:Costs were $9,021,849, including $2.5m appropriation for buildings by the city, $1.1m loss,
but this did pave the way for two subsequent events in Philadelphia in 1864 and 1876

An exhibition was mooted earlier, but actually initiated in 1869 by the Board of Management of Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute that asked the city of Philadelphia to set aside an area in Fairmount Park (then the world’s largest urban reserve). This led to an Act of Congress in 1871, authorising an Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine to be held in 1876 to commemorate the centennial of the USA.

1876 Philadelphia Catalogue

Philadelphia put up $1.5m and Pennsylvania another $1m and Congress put up a further $1.5m
as a loan and agreed to underwrite any expenses. It lost $1.1m. Much of the planning was entrusted to a 27-year-old German immigrant Hermann J Schwarzmann.

The Commissioners adopted the Paris 1867 Exposition Universelle classification system and set about planning the site and the architecture of the key buildings. Philadelphia’s event is credited as the firts landscaped internationl exhibition. It also planned visitor accommodation, transportation and other facilities thoroughly. one innovation was a comfort station including barbers and hairdressers, toilets and baths, a reading room, the facility to send telegraphs and a messenger service, Restaurants and soda fountains were located around the site,

However, they stated that ‘domes, towers and central massive features were to be ignored as too ambitious and expensive‘. and instead to focus on proper treatment of its elevations … and … interior vistas and arrangements – the latter being learned from a visiting the 1873 Vienna Weltaustellung.

1876 site plan

The event prepared a Guide Book to assist visitors find their way around the grounds.

The four major buildings were described as Main, Machinery, Agriculture and Horticulture, based in several ways upon the 1872 Moscow Polytechnic Exhibition.

The Main Building proved to be too small, and towers were added to add interest – breaking with the Commissioners’ instructions – it was demolished in 1880.

A fifth building was the Neo-Classical Art Gallery was later renamed as the Memorial Hall, it needed to be expanded to house all the artworks that were submitted. The Moorish Horticulture Hall continued to present horticulture until 1954 when the building was damaged by Hurricane Hazel and subsequently demolished. Twenty years later, it was replaced by the current Horticultural Center.

A Government Building displayed the Declaration of Independence.

Main Building – 20 acres enclosedMachinery Hall
Agricultural HallHorticultural Hall

A Women’s Pavilon was created with a declaration that all labour within it should be female. It was reported that they had huge difficulties in finding a woman to run the large steam engine that drove the looms and other equipment at the show, but they did find someone from Ontario.

On 9 May three trains brought most of the Congress, senators and officials, to see the event. The weather was dire for the opening of the event, following two days of rain.

Exhibitor Medal

There were seven main departments for the exhibits – Manufactures, Machinery, Art, Education and Science, Mining and Metallurgy, Agriculture and Horticulture. These were then subclassified and subclassified again. The approach later prompted the Dewey Decimal System.

All exhibitors received the same bronze medal for their participation – 13,000 were issued. Of note was Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, the first sewing machine designed by Elias Howe, the first practical typewriter, a mechanical calculator and Edison’s quadruplex telegraph machines . The Art Pavilon (aka Memorial Hall) is claimed to have inspired art schools and societies to spring up around the US.

Parades, concerts and firework displays were regularly scheduled.

The site had a branch line and staion on the Pennsylvania Railway and it had its own internal narrow-gauge railway and an elevated railway to span the Landsowne Ravine, both within the site.

One exhibitor displayed, under the banner of a ‘museum’, the ‘Wild Men of Borneo’, they were snapped up by P T Barnum as an attraction at his circus, though his ‘wild men’ included locals rather than indigenes of Borneo.

President Grant and the Emperor of Brazil switching on the giant Corliss Steam Engine, Machinery Hall

Ulysses S Grant and Dom Pedro, the Empeor of Brazil, opened the event to an estmated crowd of 200,000. One of their key subsequent roles was to switch on the large 700-ton Corliss steam engine. It used 23 miles of shafts and 40 miles of belts to drive all the equipment in the Machinery Hall. The steam plant that drove the Corliss was placed in a separet annex for safety. It would be shut down for an hours at noon each day so that visitors could see it re-started.

Total Abstinence Figure

Statue of Liberty’s Arm and Torch

The Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America sponsored a Centennial Fountain. it was designed in honour of prominent Irish or Catholic Revolutionary heroes, It was at Fountain Avenue and Avenue of the Republic on the Centennial grounds. Designed in the shape of a Maltese cross by Herman Kirn it contains statues of Father Theobold Matthew (Irish temperance reformer), Charles Carroll (only Catholic signatory of the Declaration of Independence), Commodore Barry (Irish-born naval commander known as the Father of the American Navy) and Archbishop Caroll (first Catholic Bishop of the USA), each mounted on fountain pedestals. The central sculpted figure was Moses holding the Ten Commandments. The Moses sculpture rests upon a rock-mound within a marble basin. Water flowed over the rocks into a pool.

France presented the arm and torch of Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty to be put on display as a fund-raising exercise for the statue to be completed. This was assisted by allowing visitors to climb up to the viewing gallery below the flame.

London’s The Times reported that many of the exhibits were not finished, for examplw huge shipments arrived from China and Russia six days after the opening. The summer was sweltering an The Times suggested that it stemmed attendance. Certainly this did reduce those attendong on 4 Jul to celebrate the actual centennial, only 50,000 braved the heat. For Pennsylvania Day in September they received 257,165 visitors.

The New York Times reported on the opening that the attendance was so large, that by the time President Grant came back for dinner, all the food at the principal restaurant was gone.

At the end of the show seventy-eight wagons full of exhibits were transported to the Smithsonian, few are on show today. Some shrunken-heads from the peruvian stand did later cause some issues for the Smithsonain.

President U S Grant, William T Sherman, Philip Sheridan and Governor Hartranft were among the Civil War soldiers who attended the fair. This exhibition would prove to be the last event held before the American Civil War.

It paved the way for two subsequent events in Philadelphia in 1864 and 1876.

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