World's Columbian Exposition

1893 Chicago
Looking West From Peristyle, Court of Honor and Grand Basin, 1893.jpg
Chicago World's Columbian Exposition 1893, with The Republic statue and Administration Building
BIE-classUniversal exposition
CategoryHistorical Expo
NameWorld's Fair: Columbian Exposition
Area690 acres (280 hectares)
CountryUnited States
VenueJackson Park and Midway Plaisance
Coordinates41°47′24″N 87°34′48″W / 41°47′24″N 87°34′48″W / 41.79000; -87.58000
OpeningMay 1, 1893 (1893-05-01)
ClosureOctober 30, 1893 (1893-10-30)
Universal expositions
PreviousExposition Universelle (1889) in Paris
NextBrussels International (1897) in Brussels

The World's Columbian Exposition (the official shortened name for the World's Fair: Columbian Exposition,[1] also known as the Chicago World's Fair and Chicago Columbian Exposition) was a world's fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492.[2] The centerpiece of the Fair, the large water pool, represented the long voyage Columbus took to the New World. Chicago bested New York City, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis for the honor of hosting the fair. The Exposition was an influential social and cultural event and had a profound effect on architecture, sanitation, the arts, Chicago's self-image, and American industrial optimism.

The layout of the Chicago Columbian Exposition was, in large part, designed by John Wellborn Root, Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles B. Atwood.[3][4] It was the prototype of what Burnham and his colleagues thought a city should be. It was designed to follow Beaux Arts principles of design, namely French neoclassical architecture principles based on symmetry, balance, and splendor. The color of the material generally used to cover the buildings façades gave the fairgrounds its nickname, the White City. Many prominent architects designed its 14 "great buildings". Artists and musicians were featured in exhibits and many also made depictions and works of art inspired by the exposition.

The exposition covered 690 acres (2.8 km2), featuring nearly 200 new (but deliberately temporary) buildings of predominantly neoclassical architecture, canals and lagoons, and people and cultures from 46 countries.[2] More than 27 million people attended the exposition during its six-month run. Its scale and grandeur far exceeded the other world's fairs, and it became a symbol of the emerging American Exceptionalism, much in the same way that the Great Exhibition became a symbol of the Victorian era United Kingdom.

Dedication ceremonies for the fair were held on October 21, 1892, but the fairgrounds were not actually opened to the public until May 1, 1893. The fair continued until October 30, 1893. In addition to recognizing the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the New World by Europeans, the fair also served to show the world that Chicago had risen from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire, which had destroyed much of the city in 1871.[2]

On October 9, 1893, the day designated as Chicago Day, the fair set a world record for outdoor event attendance, drawing 751,026 people. The debt for the fair was soon paid off with a check for $1.5 million (equivalent to $41.8 million in 2018).[5] Chicago has commemorated the fair with one of the stars on its municipal flag.[6]

Planning and organization

Advertisement for the Exposition, depicting a portrait of Christopher Columbus
Thomas Moran - Chicago World's Fair - Brooklyn Museum painting of the Administration Building

Many prominent civic, professional, and commercial leaders from around the United States participated in the financing, coordination, and management of the Fair, including Chicago shoe company owner Charles H. Schwab,[7] Chicago railroad and manufacturing magnate John Whitfield Bunn, and Connecticut banking, insurance, and iron products magnate Milo Barnum Richardson, among many others.[8][9]

The fair was planned in the early 1890s during the Gilded Age of rapid industrial growth, immigration, and class tension. World's fairs, such as London's 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition, had been successful in Europe as a way to bring together societies fragmented along class lines.

The first American attempt at a world's fair in Philadelphia in 1876, drew crowds but was a financial failure. Nonetheless, ideas about distinguishing the 400th anniversary of Columbus' landing started in the late 1880s. Civic leaders in St. Louis, New York City, Washington DC and Chicago expressed an interest in hosting a fair to generate profits, boost real estate values, and promote their cities. Congress was called on to decide the location. New York's financiers J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and William Waldorf Astor, among others, pledged $15 million to finance the fair if Congress awarded it to New York, while Chicagoans Charles T. Yerkes, Marshall Field, Philip Armour, Gustavus Swift, and Cyrus McCormick, offered to finance a Chicago fair. What finally persuaded Congress was Chicago banker Lyman Gage, who raised several million additional dollars in a 24-hour period, over and above New York's final offer.[10]

Chicago representatives not only fought for the world's fair on monetary reasons, but also on practicality reasons. On a Senate hearing held in January 1890, representative Thomas B. Bryan argued that the most important qualities for a world's fair were 'abundant supplies of good air and pure water, ... ample space, accommodations and transportation for all exhibits and visitors ... " He argued that New York had too many obstructions, and Chicago would be able to use large amounts of land around the city where there was "not a house to buy and not a rock to blast.." and that it would be so located that "the artisan and the farmer and the shopkeeper and the man of humble means" would be able to easily access the fair. Bryan continued to say that the fair was of 'vital interest' to the West, and that the West wanted the location to be Chicago. The city spokesmen would continue to stress the essentials of a successful Exposition and that only Chicago was fitted to fill these exposition requirements.[11]

The exposition corporation and national exposition commission settled on Jackson Park and an area around it as the fair site. Daniel H. Burnham was selected as director of works, and George R. Davis as director-general. Burnham emphasized architecture and sculpture as central to the fair and assembled the period's top talent to design the buildings and grounds including Frederick Law Olmsted for the grounds.[2] The temporary buildings were designed in an ornate Neoclassical style and painted white, resulting in the fair site being referred to as the "White City".[10]

The Exposition's offices set up shop in the upper floors of the Rand McNally Building on Adams Street, the world's first all-steel-framed skyscraper. Davis's team organized the exhibits with the help of G. Brown Goode of the Smithsonian. The Midway was inspired by the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition, which included ethnological "villages".[12]

Civil rights leaders protested the refusal to include an African American exhibit. Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Irvine Garland Penn, and Ferdinand Lee Barnet coauthored a pamphlet entitled "The Reason Why the Colored American is not in the World's Columbian Exposition - The Afro-American's Contribution to Columbian Literature" addressing the issue. The exhibition included a number of exhibits put on by black individuals and approved by white organizers of the fair, including exhibits by the sculptor Edmonia Lewis, a painting exhibit by scientist George Washington Carver, and a statistical exhibit by Joan Imogen Howard. It also included blacks in white exhibits, such as Nancy Green's portrayal of the character, "Aunt Jemima" for the R. T. Davis Milling Company.[13]

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