A Look Into The Past

Chicago Hosts the Columbian Exposition

What Was It and its Goal?

The Worlds Fair celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing on the Americas. The fair had two purposes. One to serve as a social and cultural presentation of the science, art and historical achievements made by humankind in many departments of life. Two to showcase the new vibrant Chicago; skillfully rebuilt after the Chicago Fire 22 years back. The fair lasted from May 1, 1893 to October 30, 1983

However did the Fair accomplish its luxurious goal of presenting advancement in human society, or did it display an ironic false American Dream?

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"Sell the cookstove if necessary and come. You MUST see the Fair." -Hamlin Garland, 1893

Who Attended and What Did They See?

An estimated 27.5 million people attended- 25% of them from the U.S. population. Everyone was allowed to come and celebrate although specific groups felt otherwise. Visitors were described as "excited, entertained, and overwhelmed." With over 633 acres and 65,000 exhibits, there was a lot to see. Concessionaries of souvenirs from all around the world that represented many different cultures were sold all throughout the streets. Taking advantage of attendance, many companies showed new inventions, for example carbonated soda was introduced at the Worlds Fair. Aside from concessions there were also carnival rides, most famous one the Ferris Wheel, lectures, presentations of many sorts, music and dance. Visitors also saw many recently built buildings in honor of the Fair, illustrating Chicago, The Rising City.This quote explains how mesmerized the fair left Americans:"I am puzzled to understand the final impression left on the average mind...as to the inward meaning of this dream of beauty. Of course, I do not understand it, but then I do not understand anything..."--Henry Adams, in a letter to Lucy Baxter, October 18, 1893

Who Organized It and Was It Successful?

Mayor DeWitt C. Cregier appointed 100 citizens to ensure Chicagos spot as a candidate for hosting the Fair, so you can say he gave the first initiative. The fair was a corporal enterprise funded by private investors and the U.S. government (by sale of coins and stamps.) Illinois Central Railroad Company, American Loan and Trust Company, and Illinois Steel Company, to name a few, companies that funded the Fair. As to who physically made the fair, they were architects: Daniel Burnham, Frederick Olmsted and Louis Sullivan. The Fair was indeed successful for many reasons. One, it was very popular and attracted many people from all around the world. Also, money made at the fair paid off all the expenses returning $1 million to 30,000 subscribers. Finally it was a great social, political and economical advance to not only Chicago, but to American society as well. From a letter, an unidentified source describes how the fair left him in awe,"Chicago delighted me because it was just as chaotic as my own mind, and I found my own preposterous state of consciousness reflected and exaggerated at every turn."Another way you know the Fair was successful is if people are still discussing it today, and still to this day are in amazement:"Can you imagine trying to see that all in one day. Or even a week. You could have spent an entire day inside one of the buildings and not see everything," Mark Alvey, The Field Museum

What Is the American Dream?

The American Dream is liberty and luxury, and false hope. Throughout history, the driving force for settlements in America was the simple idea of the "American Dream". For example colonists migrating to New England to start over, and wanting a high position in society and achieve wealth the second they arrived. However once here, the realization came that you had to work for it, the American Dream did not just come to you. The American Dream is also evident in todays immigrant situation. Clinging to the belief of success, people then realize it doesnt show up easily, but its too late by then. The U.S. however does not do a good job making the dream available to everyone. So basically I am saying the American Dream does not exist, because one way or another you suffer. Take The Great Gatsby for example, the people who lived the "American Dream" (Gatsby, Daisy, Tom) were not happy with their lives, always wishing for something more. And the people not living the "American Dream" (Myrtle, Mr.Wilson) wished they had it, so no one was ever happy.

American Dream Relevance to Worlds Fair

As I stated above in the false American Dream discussion, it was very evident at the Fair. It was designed to be a utopian society, and with all along the clean streets and well behaved people, the goal seemed to work. Although the Fair had an extravagant interior and exterior, and was widely known for its marvelous buildings and exquisite people, the negative side of the American Dream was also revealed. In one instance, the coordinators decided to display one of the low class living arrangements as a display of "how the other class lives". -Jacob Riis, 1890. As this was not already humiliating, sometimes they would display the lives of minorities the wrong way:

"African villages," , had a very different purpose: "to exhibit the Negro as a repulsive savage." -Frederick Douglass

This obviously is not the American Dream because, according to my definition, there was no luxury or liberty if they exposed the lives of these individuals in an unjust way.

Another point to be made was that not only did the Fair have a negative effect on social classes, it also affected economically. According to Julie K. Rose, "There were constant reminders of the growing economic problems of the country, which deepened into a four-year depression in the summer of 1893."

This statement definitely deflects the great image of the American dream because there was a big money issue, and according the my definition of the American dream, one did not have to stress about money because in this new nation, everything came to you freely. So the Fair countered the idea of the perfect lifestyle.

In total, it was very ironic how hard creators made Chicago seem like an utopian society, and hard they made it seem like the setting of a perfect American Dream. However they themselves set up a display of the lower class and included them in the Fair.


Works Cited

1)The Dream City: a portfolio of photographic views of the Worlds Columbian Exposition/with an introduction by Halsey C. Ives. St. Louis, Mo.: Published weekly by N. D. Thompson Publishing Co., 1893-1894. 300 p. of photos; 29 x 35cm.2)Johnson, Rossiter. A History of the Worlds Columbian Exposition Held in Chicago in 1893. Vols. 1-4. NY: D. Appleton & Co., 1897.3)“The World at the Fair: Experiences of the 1983 Columbian Exposition.” June 2009. Joint Project of UCLA History and Information Studies Graduate Students. June 3, 2009. http://uclawce.ats.ucla.edu 4)Rose, Julie K. "Worlds Columbian Exposition: The Official Fair--A History." Worlds Columbian Exposition: The Official Fair--A History. N.p., 1996. Web. 10 Jan. 2014.5)"The Worlds Columbian Exposition (1893)." PBS. PBS, 1999. Web. 08 Jan. 2014

Gabriela Torres Period 6 American Literature