1895, Atlanta US – Cotton States and International Exposition

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1895 Atlanta

Name:Cotton States and International Exposition
Dates:18 Sep – 31 Dec 1895
Days:90 days
Venue:Piedmont Park – two miles north of Atlanta – 76.5 ha (189 acres)
Theme:To stimulate foreign and domestic trade for a region in an economic depression –
to showcase products, new technologies, and to encourage trade with Latin America
Exhibitors:6,000 exhibits – from 37 States and 18 nations and colonies
Awards:1,573 medals were awarded, 634 gold, 444 silver, and 495 bronze.
Visitors:1,170,933 (inc staff) – paid entries were 779,560 (Atlanta population then was 75,000
total of $380,000 in admissions
Legacy:Piedmont Park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden

In 1893 when the World’s Columbian Exposition was held, the Southern states were experiencing a financial slump, so the notion of an event in Atlanta was in part to make up for the low representation of the South in Chicago. Atlanta also wished to demonstrate itself as a commercial and transportation hub.

1895 illustration of a bird’s-eye view

The event had first been proposed by former mayor of Atlanta William Hemphill in Nov 1893. He became the vice president and director of the exposition. The event was remotely opened by President Grover Cleveland, he switched on the machines at the fair from 1,000 milese away at his summer home, Gray Gables, at Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts. Charles A Collier, cotton mill operator and banker, oversaw the entire exposition.

A Department of Public Comfort was established to improve the accommodation for projected visitor numbers, estimated as 8,000 visitors in boarding houses and private homes and 5,000 in local hotels. A bonus of $15-35 per room was offered for new hotel rooms built in time for the event, This prompted 1,500 new rooms and another 1,000 offered on upper floors of stores downtown.

Over $2m was spent on the transformation of Piedmont Park, with the government allocating $250k for the construction of a government building. States and countries (eg Argentina) constructed their own buildings. The colour scheme, perhaps to distance itself from Chicago’s ‘White City’, was to stain the buildings a gray wood colour, and moss green roofs, so that it fit into its location more pleasingly.

1895 Atlanta venue

There were thirteen main buildings – Administration, Agricultural Auditorium, Electricity, Fine Arts, Fire, Manufactures and Liberal Arts, Machinery, Minerals and Forestry, the Negro Building, Transportation, US Government Building, and the Woman’s Building. Many facilities were incomplete for the first six weeks of the event threatening the finances of the show,

1895 Woman’s Building

American architect, Elise Mercur, designed the Woman’s Building of the Cotton States and International Exposition, a Palladian style building constructed for the purpose of displaying the accomplishments of women. The exhibits here were curated by women from Georgia. The Legion of Loyal Women presented an arrangement of forty-five dolls, each one adorned with a small shield showing the name of a state. The Building also contained working prototypes of a hospital room, kindergarten classroom, a model library, and a nursery. These functional rooms, representative of environments where women played an important roles outside the home and family, equipped with the most up-to-date equipment, features, and furnishings.

1895 New York building

New York State building, at a cost of $25,000 won a Gold Medal for building.

1895 Fine Arts interior

The general exhibiting sectors were agreed as Agriculture, Education, Electricity, Fine Arts, Food and Accessories, Horticulture, Liberal Arts, Literature, Machinery and Appliances, Manufactures, Minerals and Forestry, Manufactures, Painting and Sculpture.

1895 Layout plan

A feature of tropical gardens was created. Lake Clara Meer pre-existed at the site as a pond, but was expanded into an artificial lake of 4.7 ha (11.5 acres), for the event.

Formal international exhibitors were Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Venezuela, and the United States. Others with exhibits included Austria, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Italy, Japan, El Salvador, Russia, and Sweden.

Notable exhibits included: a Dahomey village, a German village, a Japanese village and tea garden, a Moorish palace, a Japanese village and tea garden, an Old Time Planatation, a Streets of Cairo feature, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show on the midway; the Women’s Building displayed a gun carried in the Battle of Concord and brass medallions belonging to Geo;rge Washington.

1895 Souvenir

In the Transportation Building, the Maritime Canal Company showed a scale model of a canal across Nicaragua, linking the two oceans so that trade routes could be opened between southern ports and Asia. [Later, two California events, San Francisco 1915 and San Diego 1915-6, commemorated such a canal, through Panama.]

Many visitors were brought to site by rail.

John Philip Sousa composed his famous march, King Cotton March, for the exposition, and dedicated it to the people of the state of Georgia.

Charles Francis Jenkins demonstrated an early movie projector called the Phantoscope.

Booker T Washington delivering his speech

The event is perhaps best remembered for the “Atlanta compromise” speech promoting racial cooperation by the educator and author, Booker T Washington, on 18 Sep. This was the first time in the South, post the Civil War, that a black speaker addressed an integrated audience.

1895 Negro building interior

The Cotton States Exposition became an event that challenged racial stereotyping. On 26 Dec 1895 the organisers held Negro Day and the African Americans used the ‘Negro Building’ to display accomplishments, to gather prominent black intellectuals, and to assemble groups representing black professionals, tradesmen, and religious bodies. The Negro building was billed by the organisers as the first instance in the history of exhibition where a building has been especially devoted to the Negro race.

American Indians became less of a sideshow with many accounts of their difficulties appearing in the Press. Performers in the midway ethnographic villages pursued their own agendas.

Costs were reprted as $1.1m though the entire costs, including those of exhibitors was reported as $2.5 m. The exposition experienced financial difficulties during its open period and called upon its directors to pay off its debts. It lost money, even after the directors’ top-up, but only $25,000.

After the event, the grounds were purchased by the City of Atlanta and became Piedmont Park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The permanent buildings twere mostly torn down and sold for scrap to clear the event’s debts. The New York Building was given to the Piedmont Driving Range.

Today only the stairway to the original Fine Arts Building remains in Piedmont Park, plus the lake constructed for the fair, and several stone balustrades scattered around the park.

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