1897, Guatemala City GU – Exposition Centroamericana

Forward to 1897, Nashville US – Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition
Back to 1897, Stockholm SE – General Art and Industrial Exposition of Stockholm
Back to Getting Noticed – Back to VOLUME II Index – Back to bobdenton.com home

1897 Guatemala City

The event wName:Exposition Centroamericana
Dates:15 Mar – 30 Jun 1897
Venue: 324 ha (800 acres)
Theme:To be a ‘Peace Feast’ where Guatemala would render its best accomplishments
Awards:$200,000 was budgeted for the awards, domestic and foreign
Visitors:40,000 visitors
Legacy:The event did not meet any of its objectives – but the event led to its
first mseum being founded.

Throughout the 19th c there was a drive to get some sort of union of all the central American nations to develop their economies and to support each other against colonial powers. This never became a reality.

In 1894 Guatemala’s main exports, coffee and silver, commanded high international prices prompting the Guatemalan government to approve an international exhibition.

Proposed route of Interoceanic railroad
#8 is Panajax, serving Guatamala City

It became as much to showcase the planned Interoceanic railroad between Iztapa (Pacific coast) and Puerto Barrios (Atlantic coast), a project that was running well ahead of schedule in January 1897. The government also developed the capital’s roads and built numerous public buildings and palaces, alongside the railroad project. Its Boulevard 30 de Juno (aka Avenida La Reforma) was modelled on the Champs Élysées in Paris.

1897 buildings during construction

However, coffee and silver international prices crashed and the railroad was heavily delayed. It was rekindled as the Northern Railroad project specifically to connect Guatamala City and Puerto Barrios, primarily to serve the needs of the exposition. There were severe technical difficulties of the railroad construction close to Guatemala City, given the steep cliffs and mountain sides around the city and private investors were sought to buy government bonds to fund the railroad and the event. But, between Jun 1896 and Feb 1897, the Expo bonds value dropped from $90 to $44 and the Northern Railroad bonds from $80 to $32. This led to the collapse of Guatemala’s economy and the failure of the Exposición Centroamericana. This sparked a number of revolts and the murder of Reina Barrios, its president, on 8 Feb 1898. [Subsequently a parallel highway was built and the railway could not compete with transport by this road.]

Poster showing the fairground

Guatemala had participated in the 1889 Paris and 1893 Chicago expositions, and planned a $2m spend on their event to be held in seventeen main buildings of different sizes, from a main hall to house the Central American and California pavilions, to smaller buildings for restaurant and administrative offices. The government was unable to pay its employees and by its opening on 15 Mar, the railroad was still 145 km (90m) short of Guatemala City (it was completed in 1908).

1897 interior view

International exhibiting participants were from Belgium, Chile, France Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. Their imports for the show were made duty free to encourage participation. The exhibitors were eventually located in just three buildings.

Germany shared its pavilion with Switzerland, they had brought the Krupps’ building from 1893 Chicago. For the Germans it showcased: dynamite and explosive accessories, aniline colours and other chemical products, and a bewildering mix of beer, cologne, paper, watches…

The Belgian pavilion primarily showed weaponry and ammunition. There was also a zinc factory, a glass mill, a Brussels lingerie factory, a maker of bronze medals and trophies, wool products…

1897 interior view

Nearby Costa Rica sent a delegation and built a pavilion, as they had to 1892 Madrid and 1893 Chicago. Other adjacent countries fared less well, by 15 May the press reported that El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua had not opened their stands because they had not received their shipped cargos. They also reported that Argentina did not participate because the diplomatic proceedings were not performed correctly.

1896-built Hotel Exposición

Attendance was decimated by the lack of the railway and the financial collapse – just 40,000 attendees, very few were from other countries.

Forward to 1897, Nashville US – Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition
Back to 1897, Stockholm SE – General Art and Industrial Exposition of Stockholm
Back to Getting Noticed – Back to VOLUME II Index – Back to bobdenton.com home

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.