1893, Chicago US – World’s Columbian Exposition

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1893 Chicago

Name:World’s Columbian Exposition
Dates:1 May – 30 Oct 1893
Days:156 days, originally planned to close on Sundays
Venue:Jackson Park and Medway Plaisance on the Lake Michigan shoreline
aka ‘the White City’- 290 ha (717 acres)
Theme:Celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Discovery of America, and to demonstrate how Chicago had recovered from the 1871 Great Chicago Fire that had destroyed much of the city.
Exhibitors:65,000 exhibits – 45 countries = or 86 countries, colonies and principalities
Visitors:27,529,400 visitors, with admission of 25-50c paid by 21.5m
Legacy:Costs were $27,040,316, with a profit $1,408,208

The event was produced to celebratine the 400th anniversary of the Discovery of America, it was the largest American 19th century exhibition. It had the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial exhibition as a precedent and set out to outdo it. But Chicago first had to establish its right to be the venue – Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, St Louis and Washington DC all announced plans for such an exhibition. When the 1889 Paris Exposition was assessed, only New York and Chicago emerged as front runners because of their financial strength to mount such an event.

Congress and the Senate provided a battleground for the cities, that ran into Fen 1890 before Chicago emerged vistorious, after eight ballots, Chicago having onderwritten the fair with $5m, the Chicago banker, Lyman Gage, had raised several million dollars of this in 24 hours. New York countered with $10m, forcing Chicago to match this sum by involving the state of Illinois as well as the city of Chicago.

On 28 Apr 1890 the President Harrison signed the bill to authorise Chicago as the venue, but ppointed a national to oversee the Chicago Corporation’s plans. In raising that additional $5, the Corporation had to add the state of Illinois as a ‘third leg’ of the event.

The Exposition’s offices were based on the upper floors of the Rand McNally Building on Adams Street, the world’s first all-steel-framed skyscraper.

1893 Overview

The exhibition space was to be taken from city parks, which had been created as one of the outcomes of the 1871 Great Fire of Chicago. The Parks Authority was none too impressed and pushed back, they didn’t want buildings placed on parkland it had only recently created and improved. Thus Jackson Park, an unimproved lakeside park was selected, some six miles out of the city centre.

The plans for the site and buildings were largely defined by Daniel H Burnham and John W Root (Chicago architects Burnham & Root), Charles B Atwood and Frederick Lolmsted (a Boston company). The site used water as a feature creating a lagoon and a basin as key features.

1893 basin and statue ‘The Republic’

The basin was the location for a 22.9m (75 ft) statue of The Republic (quite similar to the Statue of Liberty though it was four times larger).

It quickly became nicknamed the ‘White City’ for the buildings’ colour.

Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building

The largest building was for Manufactures and Liberal Arts and spanned 12.4 ha (30.5 acres). The Machinery Hall exhibits were driven by 127 dynamos in a separate Power House. Other halls covered Electricity, Mining, Music, Transportation (featuring an arched Golden Door with a gold-leafed bas-relief), Women [60.7 x 118.3 m (199 x 388 ft).].

Women’s Hall

Palaces were built for fine arts, fisheries, horticulture, transportation… Nineteen countries erected their own pavilions and there were thirty federal, state and territory government buildings.,

Thomas Palmer was the President of the Exposition, and George R Davis was appointed director-general. The Smithsonian agreed that exhibits would be displayed within thirteen categories – agricultrure, electricity, ethonlogy, fine arts, fisheries, horticulture, liberal arts, livestock, machinery, manufactures, mines and metallurgy, tramsportation and miscellaneous exhibits.

Davis took inspiration from the 1889 Paris show and established ethnological villages and became controversial for the lack of an African-American exhibit.

‘John Bull’

The Smithsonian showed the ‘John Bull’, then a 60-year old steam locomotive.

Administration Building on Chicago Day

A central pool was intended to represent Columbus’s long voyage. They designated 9 Oct as ‘Chicago Day’ and set a world record for an outdoor event attendance, 751,026 people. It claims to be the first World Fair with national pavilions and to have had the first moving sidewalk or travelator, with two different approaches where passengers were seated and one where they stood or walked. There was also an ice railway, and on the water there were electric launches, steam launches and gondolas.

Fine Arts Building

Fine Arts interior

The Fine Arts Building had 9,000 artworks (painting and scylpture) organised into 74 galleries. A collection of French Impressioist works went largely unnoticed among the galleries and the catalogue.

The Machinery Hall had sixty large engine manufacturers, where the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial exhibition had just one, Corlis, so significant then that the President switching it on was part of the opening ceremony.

Ferris Wheel and Balloon rides

The event established a Midway amusements area which included the original Ferris Wheel, built by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr, at a cost of $400,000, It had 36 cars and a capacity of 1,440 that lifted visitors to 80.5m (264 ft) for 50c – Ferris recorded huge profits, Or visitors could take captive balloon rides rising to 445m (1,493 ft) for a $2 ticket. There were: German beer halls; wild animal shows – featuring tigers to pigs; the world’s largest gold nugget; a Krupp’s cannon 14m (46 ft) long; a 680 kg (1500 lb) chocolate Venus de Milo; and ragtime made its public debut here. Midway would as a result become the generic term for amusement areas.

Caravel ‘Santa Maria’

Lake Michigan presented full-scale versions of the three ships of Columbus, Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria as a joint Spanish and American project, they hadf been constructed in Spain and sailed to the States. A replica of the US battleship Illinois was built on piles nearby,

Popular attractions included the ‘World’s Congress od Beauty’ with ’40 Ladies from 40 Countries’; a full-size four-storey cross-section of a transatlantic liner; the ‘Street in Cairo’ featuring a suggestive version of the belly dance; The show also introduced Juicy Fruit Gum and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Cold storage fire

A cold storage house at the south-west of the exhibition site caught fire on 10 Jul and destroyed the facility, sixteen firemen lost their lives fighting the fire. On 28 Oct the mayor of Chicago attended a gathering of mayors, as a farewell to the exhibition, but as he arrived back at his home he was assassinated, which meant the formal closing, two days later, was a subdued affair withut music, fireworks or speeches.

Total costs were $27,040,316, with a profit $1,408,208 during a year that was otherwise shaped by a depression. The Fine Arts building was rebuilt in limestone in 1922-3 and is still extant. Some exhibits were transported to the 1894 San Francisco California Midwinter International Exposition.

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