*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.
This is the final blog on the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893, aka the Chicago World’s Fair. We have discussed the background and history of the Expo as well as explored the “delights” of the Midway and its Ferris wheel. In nearly every way, the Expo was over the top—this week we are going to look at “the Big and the Bizarre”—the things that were superlatives (the biggest___, etc.) and the oddities.
The Manufactures Building, sometimes referred to as the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, was the largest. It cost “$1.5 million to build; its floor alone consumed over 3 million feet of lumber and five carloads of nails; it contained 44 acres of floor space; one thousand houses measuring 25 by 30 feet could have been placed within it; the trusses of the central hall constituted 12 million pounds of steel. These three-hinged arched trusses were thought to be the largest in the world. They had a clear span of 386 feet. To raise these trusses into place a derrick over 250 feet high had to be built–the largest traveling derrick in the world.” Fair visitors were told “ that the building was three times larger than Saint Peter’s, four times larger than the old Roman Colosseum; that it could seat 300,000 people, each having six square feet to himself; that the entire army of Russia could be mobilized on its floor; that six games of baseball might be played here simultaneously. The architecturally knowledgeable might have been more impressed by a diagram produced by one of the trade journals, which showed plenty of room to spare in the Manufactures Building even after serving as an enclosure for these structures: the United States Capitol, the Great Pyramid, Winchester Cathedral, Madison Square Garden, and Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Or perhaps it was enough just to know that the Manufactures Building was the largest roofed structure ever erected.”” (Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 95, 97)
“It stands like a great white mountain on the lake shore and may be seen at a great distance. The facades contain two-storied arched bays, thirty-five on each side and twenty-two at each end…. Where the two great aisles intersect in the centre, the clock tower rises 135 feet above the floor. …. It has a clock dial on each side and a chime of nine bells; the largest, which strikes the hour, weighs 3700 pounds. The whole chime weighs 7000 pounds. All the great nations of the earth are represented in this building by a variety of exhibits too bewildering for detailed description.” (Shepp’s World’s fair photographed, p. 42)
Look at this fantastical toy exhibit from Germany, just one of the exhibits found within the Manufacturer’s Building.
The Art Palace/Palace of Fine Arts contained a whopping 10,040 separate exhibits. A published catalog of these, listing each exhibit by name and number, runs to 506 pages. (Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 184)
Within the Agriculture Building, among the many exhibits, there were:
- Wheel of cheese weighing 22,000 pounds, made in Canada.
See The Story of the Mammoth Cheese for a bit of back-story on this cheese. According to this site, it was 6 ft. tall and 28 ft. in circumference. It took the milk of 10,000 cows to make, and when it was unloaded in the Agricultural Building, it crashed through the floor and had to be placed on reinforced concrete!
Temple 38 feet tall made of 30,000 pounds of chocolate (Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 198) This temple was created by the Stollwerck brothers of Germany. “From a foundation made of dark chocolate blocks rose columns topped by Teutonic eagles. The columns were made with swirls of white cocoa butter… Inside the the temple was a larger-than-life chocolate statue of the mythological Germania, complete with sword, standing on a pedestal that was decorated with…images of Bismarck [and] Kaiser Wilhelm I.” (from Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams], as quoted in a Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries Blog by Sue Vazakas, July 18, 2011, entitled Let’s Talk About Chocolate.)
The state of California outdid itself, with:
- A display from Santa Barbara of a 50 ft. tall obelisk of bottles of olive oil.
- A fountain which bubbled with red wine (in the Horticulture Building)
- A statue of a medieval knight made of prunes
- Made from oranges:
35 feet tall tower, consisting of 13,783 pieces of fruit (in the Horticulture Building)
- Model of the Liberty Bell
- A globe
((Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 212) and The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath. (University of Virginia, 1996.))
The fair cost $28 million.
“The World’s Congress Auxiliary held daily presentations and lectures, 5,978 in all, covering subjects including ethics, authors, economics, labor, and the mammoth week-long Congress of Religions.” (The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath. (University of Virginia, 1996.)
The power plant for the fair was housed in the Machinery Building, and contained 43 steam engines and 127 dynamos.
The Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, in addition to being the largest, housed the most varied of exhibits. “Remington typewriters and Tiffany & Co. stained glass were under the same exhibition roof with the University of Chicago’s 70-ton Yerkes telescope and Bach’s clavichord. Goods pavilions, which contained everything from clothes to phonographs, were erected within the building by America, Germany, Austria, China, Japan, France, Russia, and England. Furniture from the palace of the King of Bavaria was displayed, as was the manuscript of Lincoln’s Inaugural address and Mozart’s spinet.” (The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath. (University of Virginia, 1996.)
The Transportation Building contained a “full-scale reproduction of an ocean liner.” ((The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath. (University of Virginia, 1996.)
The Agriculture Building not only contained another Liberty Bell, this one made of wheat, oats, and rye, but it also housed a map of the United States comprised solely of pickles. It also contained this exhibit from Illinois—the entire picture is made up of parts of corn and wheat plants.
The Mines and Mining Building contained a number of unusual exhibits, including “a statue of actress Ada Rehan made entirely of silver, and a model of the Statue of Liberty made entirely of salt.” (The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath. (University of Virginia, 1996.)
Not everyone was on board with The White City theme. “Architect Louis Sullivan, who designed the fair’s Transportation Building, complained that [the] fair’s reliance on classical models would set back American architecture by half a century.” (Reardon, Patrick T. “The World’s Columbian Exposition at the ‘White City’.” Chicago Tribune, n.d. ) In his design for the Transportation Building, he bucked the trend and included this incredible golden door.
Another unusual feature of the fair was the movable sidewalk. It was built atop a pier specially constructed for this purpose. “It will accommodate 5,610 persons, who are carried along a various speed; part of the walk moves at the rate of three miles an hour, and the remainder at six miles; three hundred and fifteen cars support the structure, making a chain 4,300 feet long; the propelling power is formed by ten street car motors, and the wire and trolleys are concealed beneath the platform….” (Shepp, Daniel B. Shepp’s World’s fair photographed. Chicago, Philadelphia, Globe Bible Publishing Co. [c1893], p. 322)
From high brow to low brow, from unusual to just plain weird, from beautiful to culturally insensitive, all this was the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893. If you’ve not read the previous two parts of this blog topic, you may want to check them out. And if you’re tired of this subject matter, you’ll be glad to know that next week’s blog will be on a new topic!
1893 World’s Columbian Expo—Admission Tickets
1893 World’s Columbian Expo—Ride & Attraction Tickets
Atlas Obscura–Your Ticket to the 1893 Columbian Exposition.
Ballard, Barbara J. “A People Without a Nation.” Chicago History, Summer 1999, p. 27-43
Burg, David F. Chicago’s white city of 1893. (e-book, accessible only on campus or to registered USI users)
Chicago Architecture Foundation. World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.
Cole, Josh. “Cultural and Racial Stereotypes on the Midway.” Historia, v. 16 (2007), p. 12-32.
Encyclopedia of Chicago–World’s Columbian Exposition.
Field Museum—Fun Facts about the World’s Columbian Exposition.
The Gilded Age—PBS American Experience webpage.
Larson, Erik. The devil in the white city: murder, magic, and madness at the fair that changed America. General Collection HV6248.M8 L37 2004 also HV6248.M8 L37 2003
Lewis, Russell L. “A Wheel with a View.” Online exhibit from the Chicago Historical Society.
Maranzani, Barbara. “Chicago Was Home to a Serial Killer During the 1893 World’s Fair.” History Channel online, May 3, 2013.
McNichol, Susan. The Story of the Mammoth Cheese. Perth (Ontario, Canada) Museum.
MSS 264, the Thomas Mueller collection. Thomas Mueller was a self-employed photographer in Evansville, Indiana. He worked for the Evansville Courier and Press newspaper until 1945. This collection is available online from University Archives and Special Collections.
Novak, Matt. Where the Future Came From: A Trip Through the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Gizmodo.
Ramsey, John G. The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and Victorian America: A Humanities Time Capsule©. Carleton College.
Reardon, Patrick T. “The World’s Columbian Exposition at the ‘White City’.” Chicago Tribune, n.d.
Shepp, Daniel B. Shepp’s World’s fair photographed. Chicago, Philadelphia, Globe Bible Publishing Co. [c1893]. Located in University Archives and Special Collections’ oversize collection, T500.C1 S54.
Vazakas, Sue. Let’s Talk About Chocolate. Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries Blog July 18, 2011
The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath. (University of Virginia, 1996.)