The Chicago World's Fair of 1893: A Photographic Record

The Chicago World's Fair of 1893: A Photographic Record

by Stanley Appelbaum

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Originally conceived to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America, the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 was one of the largest (633 acres) and most influential aggregations of human talent, energy, and industry ever assembled. More than 27 million visitors entered the grounds (now Jackson Park) to marvel at the exhibits and displays housed in some 200 buildings, including those of 79 foreign governments and 38 states. Although the Fair had its share of "firsts" (original Ferris wheel, first midway, Edison's kinetoscope, etc.), its chief marvel was its architecture. It is that aspect which is emphasized in this striking photographic record.
Beginning with an overview of the fair's planning and conceptual stages, Stanley Appelbaum's well-researched text then proceeds to a fascinating discussion of the personalities, regional rivalries, and intense controversy surrounding the Beaux-Arts architecture (the "White City" style) of the fair, including its enormous impact on subsequent American architecture. The contributions of such outstanding architects and firms as R. M. Hunt; McKim, Mead and White; Frederick Law Olmsted; and Peabody and Stearns are described.
The book then becomes a building-by-building walking tour of the fair — imaginatively reconstructed with the help of 128 sharply reproduced rare contemporary photographs, printed on fine coated stock, and a concise, fact-filled text. The placid basins, ponds, and Lagoon that graced the fairgrounds lend a serene aura to these priceless views of the great buildings and sights of the fair: the Beaux-Arts glories of the Administration and Agriculture Buildings; Daniel Chester French's statue of the Republic; the Columbian Fountain by Frederick MacMonnies; the Golden Door of Louis Sullivan's Transportation Building; the Peristyle; Mary Cassatt's mural in the Woman's Building; the pure classicism of the Palace of Fine Arts (now the Museum of Science and Industry); numerous state and foreign pavilions, and of course, the Midway — the first separate amusement area at a World's Fair, and the reputed location of Little Egypt's celebrated danse du ventre.
In the concluding section, the author touches on other memorable aspects of the fair and its times: the Panic of 1893; the Pullman Strike; famous visitors (Archduke Ferdinand, the Spanish Infanta, etc.); cultural and social congresses, and finally, the disastrous fires that ultimately destroyed many of the buildings. For social and cultural historians, Chicagoans, and anyone interested in the special magic of a world's fair, this book is a loving and nostalgic look back — to a time bathed in the golden light of the fin-de-siècle years, when a colossal spectacle of human achievement in art, science, and industry captured the world's attention for one magic and unforgettable moment.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486130637
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 08/01/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 1,042,656
File size: 33 MB
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About the Author

Stanley Appelbaum served for decades as Dover's Editor in Chief until his retirement in 1996. He continues to work as a selector, compiler, editor, and translator of literature in a remarkable range of languages that includes Spanish, Italian, French, German, and Russian.

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Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1980 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13063-7



Chicago fought hard for the right to host the World's Columbian Exposition, and worked hard to deserve its award. Once the fair looked like a reality, publicity writers attempted to trace to its ultimate source the original idea of holding a large exposition to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America. Conflicting and confused reports, crediting "originators" in several parts of the country, led all the way back to the year of the Philadelphia Centennial. It is clear, however, that in Chicago, businessmen were already seriously contemplating a Columbian fair by the end of 1885.

Large-scale supralocal gatherings had always been important in Chicago's history. In 1847 the national River and Harbor Convention not only helped to create the important canal that eventually linked the city by water to New Orleans; it also introduced many Easterners to Chicago's amazing energy and drive, and attracted new investments and new inhabitants. Nominating conventions of political parties became regularly recurring events after the 1860 Wigwam catapulted the local politician Lincoln to the presidency.

In the specific realm of industrial fairs, Chicago possessed by 1873—less than two full years after the disastrous fire that many believed would write finis to the city's career—an Inter-State Exposition Building in which brief annual early-autumn fairs were held. The publishers of the Inter-State souvenir volume for 1873—three years before the Philadelphia Centennial— called it "the first book of record for any Exposition ever published in this country." Before this building at Michigan and Adams was razed in 1892 to make room for the second (and still current) home of the Art Institute, it had served in many capacities. In 1880 the Republicans nominated Garfield there, and four years later both parties occupied the building, Blaine emerging as the Republicans' choice and Cleveland as the Democrats'. And it was an Inter-State Exposition committee that passed the above-mentioned resolution in 1885 in preparation for a Columbian world's fair.

The fair would naturally have to be backed by Washington. A committee to discuss the project was organized in Congress by the summer of 1886. But it was not until receiving an enormous impetus from the highly successful Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889 that the American movement became intense and a fierce rivalry developed among the leading cities that wished to give the fair its local habitation. Washington and Saint Louis were important contenders, but the real struggle was between New York and Chicago. The patrician Eastern city started counting its spare change, and numerous pamphlets were issued to prove that certain undeveloped tracts along Manhattan's rivers, or in Brooklyn, or on Staten Island, were the only logical and sane places to hold a world's fair. It was during this acrimonious period that Chicago received its sobriquet "the windy city." In coining this phrase, Richard Henry Dana of the New York Sun, doubtful of Chicago's ability to deliver all it promised, was referring not to the physical blasts from Lake Michigan but to the "hot air" emanating from Chicago boosters.

Most New Yorkers, parochial then as now, really believed that the Chicago of 1889 was a primitive backwater. In actuality, Chicago was already "the second city" in terms of industrial and commercial wealth and power, having long surpassed its older Midwestern rivals Cincinnati and Saint Louis; and in that very year, the inhabitants of 120 square miles of adjacent suburbs and townships voted to become part of Chicago proper, bringing the population within the city limits up to the million mark.

In the cultural and social areas, 1889 saw the founding of Hull House by Jane Addams; and by that year the writers Peter Finley Dunne, Eugene Field and George Ade, along with the cartoonist John McCutcheon and others, had established the intellectual Whitechapel Club. Later than 1889, but still before the fair opened, Theodore Thomas had organized the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Public library, the Newberry Library, the second Art Institute and the second (and still current) University of Chicago had opened their doors, with the Crerar Library soon to follow. In addition, a handful of inventive architects had overtaken and surpassed New York's lead in the development of the tall commercial building, or proto-skyscraper, adding fundamental new esthetic and structural refinements and thereby contributing to the city's tourist attractions.

By mid-August of 1889, a Chicago corporation had been formed (the "World's Exposition of 1892"), which issued five million dollars' worth of bonds; the ten-dollar shares were fully subscribed by April 1890. Chicagoans and others went to study the Paris fair, which not only served as a stimulus (for one thing, it was the first exposition since London's Crystal Palace of 1851—the ancestor of all modern world's fairs—;to end up in the black financially) but also, as will be shown repeatedly in the following pages, was the specific model for innumerable large and small elements of the Chicago fair.

In December 1889, negotiations in Washington were far enough advanced for an Exposition bill to be introduced in the Senate (by Cullom of Illinois). The relentless contest between New York and Chicago was finally decided in the House of Representatives on February 24, 1890, Chicago winning a clear majority only on the eighth ballot. On April 25, President Harrison signed the Exposition bill into law and later in the year issued an official invitation to foreign exhibitors.

The award to Chicago placed most of the detailed planning—as well as almost all of the responsibility, financial and otherwise—in local hands, but also saddled the city with a National Commission of unwieldy proportions which retained the right to determine the overall plan and scope of the fair and to allot exhibition space. This Commission was very vocal during the years of planning and had to be appeased by numerous compromises.

The local Chicago officials were, of course, prominent businessmen and civic leaders. The roster changed several times during the planning period, but when the Exposition finally opened, its President was Harlow N. Higinbotham, a director of Marshall Field and Company, and its First Vice-President was the merchant Ferdinand Wythe Peck, who had conceived of the Auditorium Building (completed by Adler and Sullivan in 1889). Among the Exposition directors at the time of opening were Mayor Carter H. Harrison; traction king and graft-giver supreme Charles T. Yerkes; the outstanding banker Lyman Gage, who had been Chicago's chief Exposition representative in Washington and later became an outstanding proponent of political reform; and the then very young Charles H. Wacker, whose name was destined to be permanently associated with the Chicago urbanistic improvements that can be directly traced to the 1893 fair.

The heads of the Bureau of Photography, to whom many of the pictures in this book are owed, were Charles Dudley Arnold and Harlow N. Higinbotham, Jr. Among the many members of the National Commission whose names are still well known today, let it suffice to mention the Second Vice-President, the San Francisco newspaperman and politician M. H. de Young, who brought an echo of the Chicago fair to his own city in January 1894 (Midwinter Fair) and was a leading organizer of San Francisco's beautiful Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915.

1890 continued to be a crucial year in the planning of the Chicago fair. Before the end of the year another five-million-dollar bond issue had to be floated, for which it was necessary to obtain state approval in Springfield. It was at this point that the fair acquired its permanent official name: the World's Columbian Exposition. It must also have been roughly around this time that the planners realized the Exposition could not possibly open before 1893. The official reason given for the postponement was that it allowed all other American cities to have their own local celebrations in 1892. This was not to be the last tampering with the calendar.

Also, before 1890 was over, foreign commissioners began to visit statesmen and businessmen in all parts of the world. Eventually, despite foreign merchants' annoyance over the high customs duties imposed by the McKinley Tariff, and such specific grievances as that of China over America's Exclusion Acts, which singled out Chinese as undesirable immigrants, 46 foreign nations participated in the fair, 19 of which erected separate government buildings on the grounds. Another Exposition development of 1890 was the creation of the most high-powered publicity department in history, which ceaselessly churned out literature to familiarize the country and the world with the progress of the fair preparations.

Meanwhile, Chicago was secure in its fair, but precisely where would it be held? What would it look like? Who would build it? Nothing but the best was good enough for the Chicago corporation; in the summer of 1890 Frederick Law Olmsted was hired as landscape architect, and the partners Burnham and Root as chief architects of the buildings, Root being more specifically entrusted with the design, and Burnham with the construction.

Olmsted (1822-1903), one of the most advanced in years of the Exposition planners, was an Easterner; at the time he was summoned, his office was near Boston. World-famous for his work in the New York City area (the design, together with Calvert Vaux, of Central Park and Prospect Park in the 1850s and 60s, and subsequently of Fort Greene, Morningside and Riverside Parks), Olmsted was already associated with the Chicago area as well, having designed the delightful suburb of Riverside, beginning in 1869. In his work for the 1893 fair, Olmsted was ably assisted by the young Henry Sargent Codman.

Burnham and Root were Chicago practitioners. Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912) had come to Chicago in 1855 and, without formal architectural education, had worked for William Le Baron Jenney and others before setting up in partnership with Root in 1873. John Wellborn Root, four years younger than Burnham, had received a degree in engineering in New York in 1869, had worked briefly as a draftsman for James Renwick, architect of Grace Church and Saint Patrick's Cathedral, and had arrived in Chicago in 1871. Together, Burnham and Root had built the structurally innovative Montauk Block in 1881-82 and the grandiose but elegantly refined "Rookery" office block in 1885-86; at the time they were hired for the fair, they were in the midst of constructing the Monadnock Building, which is still famed as the last word in openness, lightness and chaste beauty that could be achieved in that era for a tall commercial building with load-bearing masonry walls. Of the two partners, Root was credited with the larger part of the inventiveness and talent for design, Burnham with more of the business and organizational ability; but this negative evaluation of Burnham has been colored by the highly personal reminiscences of the eccentric geniuses Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.

At this early planning stage, a dual site was envisioned for the fair, with the majority of the buildings to be located in the Jackson Park area and a few on the lakefront on land now part of Grant Park. In December 1890, Root drew a very informal plan on brown paper, showing the principal distribution of landscape elements (Basin, Canals, Lagoon with Island) and of main building sites for the southern (Jackson Park) location; this plan remained definitive in most essentials. In the same month, Burnham submitted an all-important memorandum to the Exposition corporation, in which he pointed out that the construction of the buildings could be assigned either to a single architect or to a number of architects, who might win first place in either an open or an invited competition for the individual buildings, or might be directly selected by Exposition authorities. Selection of several architects, championed by Burnham for the sake of expediency, uniform appearance of buildings and other considerations, won the day, and Burnham was granted ultimate responsibility for the choices.

After Burnham held consultations in the East, the New York firm of McKim, Mead and White was given the assignment for the Agricultural Building; George B. Post of New York received the contract for the Manufactures Building; Richard M. Hunt of New York, that for the Administration Building; Peabody and Stearns of Boston, that for Machinery Hall; Charles B. Atwood of Boston and New York, that for the Palace of Fine Arts. The Mining, Transportation, Horticultural and Fisheries Buildings were reserved for Chicagoans. The Electricity Building was also apparently a gain for the West, being granted to the Kansas City firm of Van Brunt and Howe; but these men were Easterners, too, and Van Brunt proved to be the most articulate spokesman of the new academic style that caused the fair to be known as the White City.

This decision of Burnham's and the consequent influx of Eastern architects, accompanied by the sculptors and muralists who had collaborated with them in the past, led to a controversy that is far from being settled today, and that has done more than anything else to keep the Exposition alive in people's memories.

The planners from East and West exchanged ideas frequently during the winter of 1890- 91, often while enjoying the generous fare of Chicago's leading restaurateurs. There was much friendly give-and-take with a view to the overriding architectural ideals of the fair (uniform cornice height, standardized bay modules, regulated dome height, etc.). The preeminent New York sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who had been offered $15,000 to supervise all Exposition sculpture but had modestly agreed merely "to indicate the general scheme" for $3,000, is reported to have called one of these gatherings of the planners the greatest meeting of artistic minds since the Renaissance. The strain of the congenial get-togethers apparently overtaxed the strength of the highly respected architect Root, who died of pneumonia on January 15, 1891. This unfortunate event provided the Exposition with a martyr, and allowed both sides in the architectural dispute to claim ever after, largely with insufficient foundation, that Root, the consummate artist, would never have countenanced this or that decision, that everything would have been altered for the good if he had lived, and so on. Root's death left Burnham in sole charge of design and construction, with the title of Director of Works.

By February 1891 a firm decision was reached to have a single site for the fair, Jackson Park. Considerations of transit were particularly vital in making this decision. Up to that period in Chicago's history, the South Side led in public transportation; moreover, the powerful Illinois Central Railroad lobbied strongly for the southern site. Land had been set aside for a park along the lake between 55th and 67th Streets as early as 1870; Olmsted pointed out in an 1893 paper that—as in the case of the Manhattan sites of Central, Morningside, Riverside, Mount Morris and Tompkins Square Parks, and of such European park sites as Battersea and the Tuileries—the Jackson Park site had originally been set aside for public use because it was considered unfavorable for profitable construction.

Before the Exposition preparations, the northernmost part of Jackson Park had already been developed, and there was a "French château"-style service building at the northeastern corner known as the Pavilion (see Fig. 1); this building was to be revamped for the fair, as will appear later. Nevertheless, Olmsted described the Jackson Park site as it appeared in 1890 as "the least parklike ground within miles of the city." It consisted of marshy flats covered with reeds and scrub vegetation, and the landscaping activity that made it essentially the Jackson Park of today was a herculean effort.

As work on the fair progressed, many architectural and landscaping ideas were given up. For instance, where the Peristyle eventually rose, a Venetian Village was to have stood. What this would have meant to the very academic Court of Honor is difficult to imagine. Yet through a sort of inertia, the Venetian scheme still largely colored the finished fair, with its prominent canals and ubiquitous gondolas.

Work on the Mining and Transportation Buildings was begun by July 1891. The unfinished Horticulture greenhouse served as a studio for the designers and decorators. Delightful contemporary magazine accounts tell of inspiriting concerts that were arranged for the artists by Theodore Thomas, and of their communal lunches, from which they were whisked to their respective working areas by electric launches.


Excerpted from THE CHICAGO WORLD'S FAIR OF 1893 by STANLEY APPELBAUM. Copyright © 1980 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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