1884-5, New Orleans US – World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition

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1884-5 New Orleans

Name:World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition
Dates:16 Dec 1884 – 1 Jun 1885
Days:c160 days
Venue:Main building 13.4 hectares (33 acres) – 30.8 hectares (76 acres) in full
Theme:Centennial of the first shipment of a bale of cotton from New Orleans
Exhibitors:from 17 countries
Visitors:1,158,840 – 50c entry
Legacy:Costs $250,000, it had a deficit of £470,00 – bought by New Orleans citizens for $175,000
and re-opened it Nov 1885- May 1886, a combined loss of $250,000

Col F C Morehead of the National Cotton Planters’ Association proposed the show in 1882 to mark the centennial of the first shipment of a bale of cotton from New Orleans. At the time nearly one third of all cotton produced in the United States was handled via New Orleans and the city was home to the New Orleans Cotton Exchange

Morehead was the exposition’s commisioner-general and was its principal ambassador. Edmund Richardson, made wealthy by cotton, led the Board of Management.

Maj E A Burke, owner/editor of the New Orleans Times-Democrat, and Louisana’s State Treasurer, was its Director General and drove much of the expansion and greater financial requirements, he is held responsible by some for its subsequent financial problems. The Congess subsequently awarded a £1m loan to this exposition, with a further 300,000 to fund federal exhibits, as for example to present a number of the exhibits from the 1876 Philadelphia event. This encouraged Burke to expand further and he claimed to have further private and commercial pledges of $225,000 to be paid across the phases of the show’s evolution. The fair was marked by corruption and scandals, and Burke absconded abroad with some $1.8m dollars of state money including most of the fair’s budget.

1884 New Orleans Site Plan

The site was located four miles upriver from the city, stretching from St. Charles Avenue to the Mississippi River, and could be entered directly by railway, steamboat, or ocean-going ship.

1884 Major Buildings

The main building offered 13,847 sq m (1,656,000 sq ft) in exhibit space, the building was modelled on the Louvre, built in southern pinewood. Lighting allowed the show to stay open until 10 pm. This building was claimed to be the largest roofed structure constructed up to that time (USA or World?). It was illuminated with 5,000 electric lights still a novelty at the time.

1884 Interior

An observation tower with electric elevators provided great view of the site.There were working examples of multiple designs of experimental electric street-cars.

1884 Main Building

A 60,286 sq m (648,825 sq ft) Government and States Building, housed the departments of State, Interior, War, Navy and Treasury, plus the Post Office and Patent Office, and The Smithsonian.

1884 Horticultural Hall

New Orleans funded a glazed building as the Horticultural Hall, which housed a popular display of Mexican cacti. The Mexican’s octagonal building was much admired and the Eighth Cavalry Mexican Band was one of the most popular musical acts in the 11,000-seater Music Hall (with staging to accomodate 600 musicians).

1884 Music Hall interior

There was a separate Women’s Building, run by Juia Ward Howe, famous for hersong the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Southern women were not pleased with the choice of a northern woman, a Bostonian, picked for this role in the south, Another special presentation was the Exhibits of the Colored Races.

1884 Medal

An electric railway allowed visitors to travel the site. A replica Statue of Liberty was on show as was the real Liberty Bell, loaned by Philadelphia.

Off-site there was a roller-skating rink and performances of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

Its 16 Dec 1884 opening was two weeks later than planned and prompted much press negative comment. President Chester Arthur opened the fair via telegraph. The distribution of exhibits was accused of ‘favourtism’ and did not make visitors journey easy.

The whole was bought by a group of New Orleans citizens for $175,000 who re-opened it from 10 Nov 1885 – 31 May 1886 as the Northern, Central and South American Exposition. After this the structures were publicly auctioned off, most going for their scrap value, this helped to reduce the combined deficit to $250,000.

In 1915 the Horticultural Hall was destroyed by a 1915 hurricane. The site later became Audobon Park featuring a zoo.

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