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World's Columbian Exposition

(aka Chicago World's Fair) a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's landing in America

The main Fair site covered 630 acres and was bounded by Stony Island Avenue on the west, 67th Street on the south, Lake Michigan on the east, and 56th Street on the north. The Midway Plaisance extended from 59th to 60th Streets, west from Stony Island to Cottage Grove Avenue. It opened its gates on May 1, 1893, and closed them on October 30, 1893. Although exact attendance figures are unknown, it is generally believed that the Fair hosted over 27 million visitors.

Columbiana, official symbol of the World's Columbian Exposition

advertising flyer for Chicago Day, October 9, 1893
advertising flyer for Chicago Day, October 9, 1893


Chicago was one of four cities that vied to host the Columbian Exposition -- the others were New York, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis. The competition between these cities became so intense that Charles A. Dana, editor of the New York Sun, dubbed Chicago "that windy city."

On July 22, 1889, the Chicago City Council directed Mayor De Witt C. Cregier to appoint a committee of 100 citizens to plan and carry out the city's campaign. Several Chicago businessmen -- including bank president Lyman Gage, publisher Andrew McNally, railroad tycoon George Pullman, and J.P. Morgan assistant Charles Schwab -- raised $5 million in stock to financially back the project. On February 24, 1890, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to award the Fair to the city of Chicago, provided the city raise another $5 million. The city raised the necessary funds easily and, on April 25, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed the act that designated Chicago as the site of the Exposition.

Dedication ceremonies were held on October 21, 1892, but the Fair did not officially open to the general public until May 1, 1893.

Notable Features

The centerpiece of the Fair was the Court of Honor, a complex of fourteen buildings situated around a large reflecting pool known as the Grand Basin. Each building in the complex was built in the Beaux-Arts architectural style, was of a uniform cornice height, and was covered in the same white stucco. The uniformity of the buildings combined with their gleaming white surfaces led to this complex being popularly called the "Great White City." The sight was so wondrous that it provided the inspiration for the "Emerald City" in L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz.

The Court of Honor, aka Great White Way
Court of Honor

Exhibits within Machinery Hall included Eli Whitney's cotton gin, sewing machines, and the world's largest conveyor belt. The building also contained the Fair's power plant, with 43 steam engines and 127 dynamos providing electricity for the Fair.

The Manufactures and Liberal Arts building contained the widest variety of exhibits at the Fair. Manufactured goods on display included Remington typewriters and stained glass from Tiffany & Co. Other items included the University of Chicago's 70-ton Yerkes telescope, Johann Sebastian Bach's clavichord and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's spinet, furniture from the palace of the King of Bavaria, and the manuscript of Abraham Lincoln's Inaugural Address.

The Palace of Fine Arts contained many of the world's artistic masterpieces. Today the building houses Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.

the Palace of Fine Arts
the Palace of Fine Arts

The most popular building at the Fair proved to be the Electricity Building, which housed exhibits demonstrating the practical and entertainment value of what was then a new phenomenon. One popular exhibit was a full-size dwelling fitted with all the household electrical appliances available at the time. The world's first telegraph message was on display, as was the first seismograph, the newly invented phonograph, Thomas Edison's kinetoscope, and a Tower of Light, displaying over 18,000 bulbs.

inside the Electricity Building
inside the Electricity Building

The Midway Plaisance was where most of the Fair's amusements and entertainment venues were located. Notable amongst these were Hagenbeck's Zoo, models of both the Eiffel Tower and St. Peter's Basilica, a captive balloon ride, a diorama of the Kilauea volcano, a street in Cairo, and the world's first Ferris Wheel.

the Ferris Wheel
the Ferris Wheel


University of Virginia

See Also

Christopher Columbus
George Pullman
President Benjamin Harrison
L. Frank Baum
Eli Whitney
Abraham Lincoln
Eiffel Tower

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The Robinson Library >> Exhibitions, Trade Shows, World's Fairs, Etc.

This page was last updated on 01/02/2019.