Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Columbian Exposition

Chicago's World Fair in 1892 marked the 400th anniversary of Columbus "discovering" America.  It was hailed more for the technological marvels on display than its architecture, but here is a catalog of the exhibit, entitled Official Views of the World's Columbian Exposition.  Quite a few other catalogs out there as well, along with a handful of historical novels, including this one by John Glavin entitled Trapped on the Wheel.  That's a pretty impressive Ferris Wheel for any age!


  1. I think it was 1893 -- which is odd given the 1492 commemoration. But that was where Turner gave his paper on the end of the American frontier.

    Devil in the White City focuses on the architect (and the devil) -- you might like it since there's lots about the architecture firm and what they were trying to accomplish. I didn't get much past that, but I'm also sort of overwhelmed with other stuff. Dramatic story to be sure.

  2. It started October, 1892, and extended into 1893.

  3. Daniel Burnham is an interesting figure, assuming that is who Larson is referring to. He is better known as an urban planner than an architect. He completed the design of Washington, DC, which L'Enfant had started.

    It was his partner, John Root, who was made head of the World's Fair but died in 1891, and Burnham assumed the leadership, much to the chagrin of Louis Sullivan, who was good friends with Root in pioneering a modern Chicago architectural style. Burnham was always more drawn to neo-classical planning and architecture, and when he took the lead he invited mostly New York architects, including McKim, Mead and White, to design the major buildings. Sullivan was given the transportation building.

  4. Sullivan's transportation building,



    I don't think he put much heart into it, although close-ups reveal his wonderful sense of ornamentation.

  5. I did a lot of research on the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia -- it's amazing how they built these virtual state-of-the-art cities and then tore them down after only a few months. And in the midst of economic downturns and depressions.

    Nice article on the Ferris wheel:


    Note that the fair opened May 1, 1893, and closed at the end of October.

  6. Dates seem to vary, but this timeline shows that the fair was dedicated on October 2, 1892,


    hence the title and the coin,


    but as you note it didn't officially open until May, 1893.

  7. I much prefer your date which must be for ground breaking because the 400 year commemoration is obvious -- something that I had totally missed in spite of the title. They were always calling them something like Columbian or Pan American or Pacific or whatever.

    I had to laugh because moving my can of Irish Steel Oats this a.m. I noticed it won an award at the 1893 Columbian World's Fair for its uniformity of granulation. Better than being selected by the queen!


    (The can at Amazon says it also won an award in 1876 -- but having looked at the awards books for that one, they awarded everyone and everything.)

    There's a whole world of scholarship around the fairs. I find them interesting because of their promotion of commerce and progress with a layer of science thrown in. The Smithsonian pretty much came into being as a museum after the 1876 Centennial -- they went around and asked everyone (states and countries) to donate their natural history specimens rather than ship them home. Many if not most did. It resulted in the need for a totally new museum building (now the Arts and Culture building).

  8. I read Devil in the White City last month.

    Pictures on the website you posted are great. It looks larger than I'd imagined from the book.