CITY  LIFE

 

1893 CHICAGO WORLD’S FAIR

World's Fair
Bird’s-eye view of the grounds and buildings of the lakefront-based Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.



World's fair
Detail of city of the future in General Motors’ Futurama
Exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Flushing
Meadows, Queens.

The first great World’s Fair in the U.S. celebrated the nation’s centennial in Philadelphia in 1876. Seventeen years later, Chicago defeated New York and Washington in the competition to host the Columbian Exposition, created in honor of Columbus’s voyage to America in 1492. Modeled after the Paris Exposition in 1889, it promoted the industrial might and superiority of the United States and was an advertising venue for the corporations which participated.

The first great World’s Fair in the U.S. celebrated the nation’s centennial in Philadelphia in 1876. Seventeen years later, Chicago defeated New York and Washington in the competition to host the Columbian Exposition, created in honor of Columbus’s voyage to America in 1492. Modeled after the Paris Exposition in 1889, it promoted the industrial might and superiority of the United States and was an advertising venue for the corporations which participated.

 

World's Fair
Gildo Spadoni painting the Trylon for the 1939-40
New York World's Fair.
The “White City,” named for its electric lighting and architecture, proclaimed that Chicago was a world-class city. When the entire nation’s population stood at 65 million, attendance at the fair was 27.5 million. The Fair also introduced Americans to the Pledge of Allegiance, Juicy Fruit gum and the Ferris wheel.

 

To make the fair a financial success, the organizers lured crowds to the Midway Plaisance, packed with Barnumesque exhibits and mechanical rides. The Midway also reflected the deep-seated racism of late 19th century American culture; national groups were exhibited in a hierarchical order with the “civilized” Anglo-Saxon, Teutonic, and Celtic groups closest to the “White City,” Asians in the center, and Africans and American Indians farthest away. These notions of Caucasian superiority justified racism at home and imperialism abroad, beliefs that would continue into the 20th century.

The White City’s commercial success would inspire future fairs in St. Louis, Buffalo, New York and Seattle. The themes of progress and the future continued to shape these fairs throughout the 20th century, most notably in General Motors’ Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City.

CUNY