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WORLD'S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION, CHICAGO, 1893

Ticket to the Columbian Exposition If the Centennial marked the emergence of the United States as an economic power, the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 marked the country's coming of age as a political and industrial power. It represented the change from a predominately agricultural America concerned with domestic problems to a modern urban and industrial nation involved in world economy and politics. For the Exposition, Chicago built an entire new city--"TheWhite City"-- larger, more elaborate, and more truly international in scope than any previous fair.
The White City represented an unprecedented collaboration of artists, architects, engineers, sculptors, painters, and landscape architects who joined forces to create a single work - an ideal model city. Lauded as an American Venice, the White City was composed of a "Court of Honor" of classically styled white buildings with columns and gilded domes linked to the other parts of the grounds by a series of lagoons and canals. Leading national architectural firms including Richard Morris Hunt, McKim, Mead, and White, and Louis Sullivan designed the major buildings. Well-known sculptors such as Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French were involved in the architectural decoration.

There were 65,000 exhibits displayed at the fair, showcasing every conceivable product from a 1,500 pound chocolate Venus de Milo to a 46-foot cannon by Krupp, the German munitions manufacturer. Among the many products introduced at the fair were Cracker Jacks, Aunt Jemima Syrup, Cream of Wheat, Pabst Beer, and Juicy Fruit gum. The Fair also introduced picture postcards to the American public, as well as two mainstays of the late-twentieth century diet--carbonated soda and hamburgers.

While the public may have been awestruck by the grandeur of the architecture and impressed by the array of consumer products, what kept them at the fair was the Midway Plaisance, a commercially-sponsored self-contained amusement area. It featured popular entertainment such as German beer halls, the original Ferris Wheel, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and exotic dancers.

The Fair was immensely popular, drawing over twenty-seven million visitors from around the world during its six-month run. Visitors included Frederick Douglass, Jane Addams, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Scott Joplin, Susan B. Anthony, Henry Adams, and L. Frank Baum, who would go on to transform the White City into the Emerald City of Oz. Although the products, inventions, and amusements were what visitors remembered most about the event, its long-term legacy was in the interplay of consumerism, technology, and entertainment. The corporate-designed amusements and mix of product with entertainment led directly to the late twentieth-century fascination with Disneyland and McDonald Happy Meals.


From the Forest to the Foot From the Forest to the Foot. Boston: Dryside Press, 1893.

The great improvements in printing technology in the second half of the nineteenth century made possible the brightly colored, cheaply- produced advertising ephemera that was widely distributed at the fair. Product displays were geared to a mass audience, interested in entertainment as much as education.

American Cereal Co. American Cereal Company.
The American Cereal Company at the World's Fair, Chicago, 1893: World's Fair Souvenir... Boston: Armstrong & Co., Lith., 1893.

Parkhill Manufacturing Company.
Samples of "Toile du Nord" and other products... [The Company, 1893].

Bucklen & Company, Chicago.
Dr. King's: New Discovery for Consumption, Coughs and Colds: Souvenir of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893. Chicago: H. E. Bucklen [1893].

Washburn, Crosby Co. Flour Mills.
World's Columbian Exposition 1893. Boston: Armstrong & Co. Lith., 1893.

World's Columbian Exposition compliments of California Fig Syrup Co. San Francisco, Calif.: The Company, 1893.


Century World's Fair Book Tudor Jenks, 1857-1922.
The Century World's Fair Book for Boys and Girls; being the adventures of Harry and Philip with their tutor, Mr. Douglass, at the World's Columbian Exposition. New York: The Century Co., 1893.
Childen made up an important part of the audience for the Exposition. The attractions of the Midway, especially the giant Ferris Wheel, thrilled them. Advertisers combined a little education with a lot of color and humor to grab their attention.

Brandreth Columbian ABC Brandreth Columbian ABC for Little Ones. New York: 1893.


The African American community hoped that they could take part in the Fair and highlight the advances they had made, economically and creatively, in the thirty years since emancipation. However, once again they were denied a voice in the Fair's creation and African America exhibits had to be approved by all-white screening committees before they were accepted for display. The response among the African American community was mixed. Two factions, one led by Frederick Douglass, the revered abolitionist, the other by Ida B. Wells, the crusading African American journalist, disagreed as to whether the Fair should be boycotted or accommodated . Douglass, who advised Blacks to regard the Fair as an opportunity to show how far African Americans had progressed since emancipation, made a moving speech against American racism on Jubilee Day, a day set aside for Black visitors. Unfortunately, the Columbian and the subsequent Fairs remained overwelmingly racist.

Autograph book from the World's Columbian Exposition.
Among the many autographs of now-unknown dignitaries, is the signature of Frederick Douglass who attended the Exposition as the representative of the country of Haiti.

Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1872-1906.
The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1929.

Paul Laurence Dunbar, the poet and short story writer, was born in Dayton, Ohio, the son of a slave. At the age of twenty-one, he went to Chicago to work at the World's Columbian Exposition. He wrote the poem "The Columbian Ode" in commemoration of the event.


Women played a more visible and active role in the Columbian Exposition than in any previous World's Fair. The women's building, designed by female architect, Sophia G. Hayden of Boston, highlighted women's accomplishments in the arts, science, education, and industry. A national commission, The Board of Lady Managers, oversaw women's particiption.

The World's Congress of Representative Women met in Chicago as part of the events. Three hundred and thirty women, including Jane Addams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony addressed the Congress, whose total attendance exceeded a hundred and fifty thousand. Women's suffrage was a major issue, since by 1893, Wyoming and Colorado had already granted women the right to vote.

Art and Handicraft Art and Handicraft in the Woman's Building of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893 edited by Maud Howe Elliott. Paris, New York: Boussod, Valadon & Co., 1893.

Programme of the World's Congress of Representative Women World's Congress of Representative Women Chicago, Ill. Programme of the World's Congress of Representative Women, May 15 to 21, inclusive, 1893, Memorial Art Palace, Chicago. Chicago: 1893.

Carrie V. Shuman, compiler.
Favorite Dishes. A Columbian autograph souvenir cookery book. Chicago: R. R. Donnelley & Sons Co., printers, 1893.


The Midway Plaisance
The Columbian Exposition was the first World's Fair with a separate amusement area. The noisy and rowdy attractions were concentrated on the Midway Plaisance so as not to disturb the park-like atmosphere of the rest of the Exposition. The Midway's amusements ranged from replicas of European villages to carnival rides. The "Street in Cairo," which introduced exotic dancing to America, was the most successful Midway attraction; its stockholders realized more than a hundred percent profit on their investment. The world's first Ferris Wheel was also introduced on the Midway. The 250-foot high steel structure, designed by Pittsburgh engineer George W. Ferris, had thirty-six cars carrying sixty riders each.

Midway Plaisance W. H. (William Hunter) Crane.
Midway Plaisance. Chicago: Orcutt Co., 1893.

Don't Fail to Visit.. Don't fail to visit the Egyptological Exhibit... Chicago: Thayer & Jackson, 1893.

Chicago Times Portfolio Chicago Times Portfolio of the Midway Types. Chicago: American Engraving Co., 1893.


Introduction Centennial Exposition Pan-American Exposition Louisiana Purchase Exposition
Sesquicentennial Exposition Century of Progress New York World's Fair Internet Resources


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