1893 World’s Fair, Chicago

1893 Columbian Exposition, Chicago

1893 Columbian Exposition, Chicago

Did you ever wonder how so many of the things came about that we associate with America?  For instance: The Emerald City  in the Wizard of Oz, Disneyland, Hershey’s Chocolate, Ragtime music?

It started at the fair, the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, also known as The Columbian Exposition.

The French had held national exhibitions beginning in 1844, but the idea for the first world exposition came from Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband.  It was held in the Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, London in 1851. The Chicago fair marked the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World.

Last week I read Lynn Austin’s book,  A Proper Pursuit,  a novel set against the backdrop of the fair.  My curiosity was really piqued.  So I did a little research.  It was huge.  Built on 630 acres, it contained 3 miles of canals with gondolas and a replica Viking ship sailed across the ocean from Norway. and hosted more than 25 million visitors.  In fact once could arrive at the fair by boat and enter on a moving sidewalk.

Admission ticket to Chicago World's Fair, 1893

Admission ticket to Chicago World's Fair, 1893

Interesting facts:

Katherine Lee Bates was so impressed with her visit to the fair, that when she wrote her poem, America The Beautiful, she penned the phrase “alabaster cities” referring the the White City area.  Frank L. Baum patterned the Emerald City after visiting.  Walt Disney’s father worked on the construction.

George Ferris introduced his wheel (250 ft. high) and it was so popular, it saved the fair from bankruptcy.

Electric power was introduced to the American public.  The white stuccoed buildings reflected the electric lights and people referred to that area as The White City.  A 70 ft. tower of light bulbs was exhibited in the Electricity Building.

The term ‘Midway’ was first used.

Attractions included the first commercial movie theater.

Scott Joplin introduced the new Ragtime style of music.  Also on the music front, Little Egypt danced to a tune that is now very famous (you know the one, it’s used for snake charmers in the cartoons or kids on the playground sing “In a land called France…”).   It was an improvised tune, never copyrighted and now in the public domain.

Product firsts:
Hershey Bars, Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum, Cracker Jacks,  Cream-of-Wheat, Shredded Wheat, Quaker Oats, Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix.

The fair played a huge role in introducing America on the world stage. One of the most permanent legacies was the Beautiful City movement which sought to rectify the neglect of American cities.

Only 5 of the buildings survive today, only one at the original site.  Some were torn down.  As stunning as they were, they weren’t built to last.  Most of them were wood frame and a plaster mixture.  A fire in 1894 destroyed even some that had been slated to be made permanent.

Admission price:  50 cents.

You can learn more here. and see some great pictures on flickr.   .  The Wikipedia site is interesting, but be careful, because some of it is a little inaccurate.

Youtube has a 4 parts of a series about the fair, narrated by Gene Wilder. At the end, click on the next part in the sidebar at the right of the page. Part 5 (and possibly subsequent parts) seem to be missing at this time but the link gives information about where to purchase the DVD. *August 8, 2011 update: This video has been removed from youtube but this one is a 2 minuted narrated slideshow.

Also on youtube is another series. It’s unclear how many parts are available for viewing.

Youtube recording of Scott Joplin playing his piece “Maple Leaf Rag”. I can’t get this link to work, but if you type in Scott Joplin Maple Leaf Rag in the youtube search bar, this should be at the top of the list. It’s funny, because he plays it very fast. My husband loves to play Ragtime, and Joplin notes on his pieces to not play it fast; Ragtime is never played fast.


Filed under Chicago, History

7 responses to “1893 World’s Fair, Chicago

  1. sjbraun

    I’m so glad you commented at my spot (loved your recollections about Family Affair!) so I could find yours. Like you, I am fascinated with the Chicago World’s Fair – my interest began when I read Devil in the White City, which is EXCELLENT and centered around the fair. We visited Chicago shortly thereafter and went to the Museum of Science and Industry, and I just LOVED imagining the crowds who had visited that same spot for the fair. I love this post, links, and photos!

  2. Thank you so much. I enjoyed researching it.

    About 7 years ago I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Chicago. The Museum of Science and Industry was one of the places I wanted to go to, but I didn’t make it there. If I’d know that it was built during the fair I would’ve made more of an effort. A friend of mine who grew up in Chicago has told me about it and how wonderful it is.

    I’m going to check the library for a copy of Devil in White City. Thanks for recommending it.

  3. un Compadre

    Please do not forget that it was NIKOLA TESLA which made many of the marvels of electricity possible thanks to his unparalleled genius and the backing of Mr. Westinghouse.

    History has omitted this paradigm of human virtue and intelligence for far to long. We who are alive today owe not only to our ancestors but to our descendants to ensure that Tesla’s legacy of forethought, sacrifice and quiet strength be remembered for every age to come.


  4. Big Guy

    Prince EDWARD???

    • Have no idea how I could’ve made a mistake that silly, how I missed it in the editing process and never saw it until you correctly pointed it out.

      Thank you; it has now been corrected.

  5. Reblogged this on Coming out of Hiding and commented:
    This is a really interesting article on the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Some very cool trivia in it. It was Frank Baum’s inspiration for his Wizard of Oz story. Cracker Jacks, Aunt Jemima’s Pancake mix and Quaker Oats were first introduced at the fair.

    • Rosh, reading that novel really piqued my interest in the fair and I was amazed at all the additions to our daily life that had their beginning there.

      Thank you so much for your interest in my blog!

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