Chicago's History- Relevant Today

The 1893 Chicago World's Fair

The World's Columbian Exposition- A Gateway To The Future

The World's Columbian Exposition- also known as the Chicago World's Fair- was held in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of the New World. However, the fair served as a monumental exposition for new technology, different cultures from around the world, and new entertainment that changed how Chicagoans had fun in the city. So much innovation gave a great deal of people a bright outlook for the future. That future is now. The World's Columbian Exposition has helped build the present Chicago by making the city home to a world of innovation.

The Creation of the Chicago World's Fair

Celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World the Fair was actually held a year later than planned. Washington, D.C., St.Louis, New York City, and Chicago had all competed to have the honor of hosting the Fair. On April 25, 1890, president Benjamin Harrison signed the act which allowed Chicago to be the site of the Fair. Daniel H. Burnham was in charge of the architectural planning of the Fair, and decided where the Fair was going to be held within the city, who would be the architects in charge of creating the buildings, and the sculptors who would decorate the grounds. $28 million went into preparing the Fair while people were allowed to pay in order to watch the buildings that were going to be used for the Fair be built. It took three years to prepare the Exposition, and the fairgrounds were open on May 1, 1893.

"This exposition is not the conception of any single mind; It is not the
result of any single effort, but it is the grandest conception of all the
minds and the best obtainable results of all the efforts put forth by all
the people who have in any manner contributed to its consideration."

-Fair Director General Davis May 1, 1893 excerpt, fair opening speech-

The Fair was the largest ever at the time, with 65,000 exhibitors and millions of visitors. It has been called the “Blueprint of the American Future” and marked the beginning of the national economy and consumer culture."

-Chaim M. Rosenberg, 2008, America at the Fair: Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition

"Sell the cook the stove if necessary and come. You must see the fair"
-Novelist Hamlin Garland to his parents in 1893-

"The world's fairs were paeans to progress, concrete demonstrations of how order and organization, high culture and art, science and technology, commerce and industry, all brought together under the wise administration of business and government, would lead inevitably to a brighter, more prosperous future."
-David Nasaw, 1965, Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements


The World's Fair of 1893 introduced new technology to the world, placing a special emphasis on electricity. The latest in technology developed at the time, electricity made its way into American everyday life after being celebrated at the World's Fair. The focus that was turned towards technology at the Fair helped show the innovation and progress that America was making during the Gilded Age (1870-1917). Many prototypes were introduced at the fair, such as fluorescent light bulbs and the dishwasher. The Fair became illuminated at night thanks to electricity, urging visitors to bravely embrace modernization , to push forward the development of technology to give America a brighter future.


The World's Fair contributed to many cultural innovations. With a variety of people from different backgrounds, the Fair helped spread diversity which is now known today in Chicago as an aspect of the city. The Midway Plaisance showcased the cultures of a number of countries that gave Americans an insight into the rest of the world. The Fair also helped debut many products that are now commonly known today- Cream of Wheat, Shredded Wheat, Pabst Beer, Aunt Jemima Syrup, and Juicy Fruit Gum. Music was an important factor in the cultural aspect of the Fair as well, with marching bands performing on the Fairgrounds and the New World Symphony was composed in honor of the Exposition. L. Frank Baum became inspired from the so-called "White City" that he created an Emerald City in his novel The Wizard of Oz.


The Midway Plaisance was the Fair's site for entertainment. Many stands found there were odd, but they added their own exoticism to the World's Fair itself. A major landmark of the Fair was the towering Ferris Wheel, which took passengers 264 feet high into the air for the price of 50 cents. Many performers such as the belly dancer "Little Egypt" brought their own entertainment for American fairgoers. Keeping a balance between the carnival-like atmosphere and the more serious exhibitions within, the Midway Plaisance would later inspire the creation of amusement parks such as Disney World.

The Fair's Legacy

The Fair dazzled the +20 million visitors who paid admission. Many of the exhibits were introduced to different museums around the country, including the Smithsonian. The Museum of Science and Industry was erected in place of the Palace of Fine Arts. The Fair set a standard for future American World Fairs. The beautiful architecture of the buildings used for the Fair helped to spread the City Beautiful movement- a movement in which buildings were created in a more modern style that would help urban planning for developing cities and would also serve to introduce the urban lifestyle as glamorous and a good depiction of the Gilded Age. Since Chicago was the first of American cities to put forth the City Beautiful effort, it became a leading example for other cities because Chicago had already impressed a multitude of visitors at the Fair with the beautiful buildings and generally the opulent ambiance of the Fair. Chicago placed itself as a figure of example for the nation, proudly displaying its accomplishments from the Fair. There are still many signs of the Fair's existence today, with the few buildings that were salvaged after the Fair and the modern skyscrapers that were created due to inspiration for new forms of architecture from the City Beautiful movement. Chicago had experienced a fire 22 years prior to the Fair, and the Fair demonstrated that Chicago was able to rise from the ashes. Chicago is still that same strong city today.

Works Cited

"Article The 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago." The 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2014.

"History Files - The World's Columbian Exhibition." History Files - The World's Columbian Exhibition. Chicago Historical Society, n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2014.

Rose, Julie K. "World's Columbian Exposition: The Legacy of the Fair." World's Columbian Exposition: The Legacy of the Fair. N.p., 1996. Web. 08 Jan. 2014.

Rydell, Robert W. "World's Columbian Exposition." World's Columbian Exposition. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Jan. 2014.

Sigur, Hannah. "A New Look at the World's Columbian Exposition." A New Look at The World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2014.

"The World's Columbian Exposition (1893)." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2014.