Aunt Em had just come out of the house to water the cabbages when she looked up and saw Dorothy running towards her.
“My darling child!” she cried, folding the little girl in her arms and covering her face with kisses. “Where in the world did you come from?”
“From the Land of Oz,” said Dorothy gravely. “And here is Toto, too. And oh, Aunt Em! I’m so glad to be home again!”
That was some wizarding story!
It was written in Chicago by L. Frank Baum. He was inspired by the grandeur of the White City in his creation of the Emerald City. The White City was the nickname of the Chicago World Fair of 1893.
The official name of the Chicago World Fair of 1893 was the World’s Columbian Exposition. The official purpose was to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492. The iconic centerpiece of the Fair, the large water pool, represented the long voyage Columbus took to the New World.
Under Daniel Burnham, its chief builder, it become something enchanting, known throughout the world as the White City. Most of the buildings of the fair were designed in the neoclassical architecture style, clad in white stucco, on the side of boulevards illuminated by electric lights, which made the boulevards and buildings usable at night. Buildings and monuments by Charles McKim, Daniel Burnham, Augusts Saint-Gaudens and Richard Morris Hunt and lush landscaping by Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York’s Central Park, left a lasting impression on municipal planners looking for a way to bring open spaces and grand public buildings into crowded cities.
The fair taught men and women steeped only in the necessary to see that cities did not have to be dark, soiled, and unsafe bastions of the strictly pragmatic. They could also be beautiful. William Stead recognized the power of the fair immediately. The vision of the White City and its profound contrast to the Black City drove him to write If Christ Came to Chicago, a book often credited with launching the City Beautiful movement, which sought to elevate American cities to the level of the great cities of Europe. Like Stead, civic authorities throughout the world saw the fair as a model of what to strive for. They asked Burnham to apply the same citywide thinking that had gone into the White City to their own cities. He became a pioneer in modern urban planning. He created citywide plans for Cleveland, San Francisco, and Manila and led the turn-of-the-century effort to resuscitate and expand L’Enfant’s vision of Washington DC. In each case he worked without a fee. While helping design the new Washington DC plan, Burnham persuaded the head of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Alexander Cassatt, to remove his freight tracks and depot from the center of the federal mall, thus creating the unobstructed green that extends today from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.
Walt Disney’s father, Elias, worked as a construction supervisor during the building of the White City. Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom may well be a descendant, just like Emerald City. The fair made a powerful impression on the Disney family. It proved such a financial boon that when the family’s third son was born that year, Elias in gratitude wanted to name him Columbus. His wife, Flora, intervened; the baby became Roy. Walt came next, on December 5, 1901, and he grew up listening to his father’s stories of the grand city.
The Japanese temple on the Wooded Island charmed Frank Lloyd Wright, and may have influenced the evolution of his “Prairie” residential designs. Intrigued by the building’s simplicity, elegant craft and structural lightness, he praised it as natural, organic and modern.
Together, Daniel Burnham and his architects conjured a dream city whose grandeur and beauty exceeded anything each could have imagined on his own. Visitors wore their best clothes and most somber expressions, as if entering a great cathedral. Some wept at its beauty.
There were fourteen main “great buildings” centered around a giant reflective pool called the Grand Basin.
The Administration Building, designed by Richard Morris Hunt. As the focal point of the fair, the Administration Building had an important symbolic function. It had a great size related to its function as triumphal gateway into the fair. The large majority of visitors arrived by train at the station located directly behind the Administration Building. From the station they would pass through the rotunda of the Administration Building and out to the Court of Honor and the rest of the fair. Thus, the building served as a kind of foyer or vestibule to the fair, being the first structure seen by most visitors.
The Agriculture Building, designed by Charles McKim. More than 550 American companies and 33 states set up shop on the main floor. As part of the foreign exhibits, a gigantic cheese from Canada was displayed in the eastern portion of the main floor. Made by J.A. Ruddick of Perth, Ontario, the 10 tonne cheese was 1.8m tall with a circumference of 8.5m. Its makers used 90 tonnes of milk! Other nations’ agriculture on display included grains, jams, and beers from Canada; champagne, wine, truffles, chocolates and pâté de foie gras from France (yum!); a 50 tonne chocolate statue of Christopher Columbus (also from France), a 11.5 tall, 13 tonne chocolate statue from Germany; hams, cheeses, beers, ales and teas from Great Britain; whiskeys from Scotland and Ireland; teas and silks from Japan; coffee and grains from Brazil; and coffee, tobacco and liquor from Mexico.
The Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, designed by George B. Post. The exhibit hall had enough interior volume to have housed the US Capitol, the Great Pyramid, Winchester Cathedral, Madison Square Garden and St. Paul’s Cathedral, all at the same time! Instead it exhibited works related to literature, science, art and music. Lighting the building required 35,000 electric bulbs. The building’s main thoroughfare was called “Columbia Avenue”. European, South American and Asian countries all hosted exhibits on the main floor, displaying their culture, history and creativity. Several thousand American companies also had exhibits, which were arranged in 34 different categories. Even with all of this room, demand for exhibit space greatly exceeded availability. A 402m tall clock tower stood inside the main entrance and symbolized American clock making.
The Mines and Mining Building, designed by Solon Spencer Beman. This building displayed America’s mineral wealth. There was coal and iron from the Alleghenies, phosphates from Florida, silver and lead from the Rocky Mountains, copper from Michigan, and gold from California. Frick Coal & Coke, Standard Oil and Bethlehem Steel also had major exhibits in the building.
The Electricity Building, designed by Henry Van Brunt and Frank Maynard Howe. Inside were “the most novel and brilliant exhibits of the exposition,” according to the fair’s official guidebook. When the 1893 exposition occurred there was a major shift from steam power to electric power, so electricity was a major attraction at the fair. The Columbian Exposition had more electric light bulbs than the rest of the City of Chicago. George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla introduced alternating current to the public for the first time at the fair. Neon lights debuted here too. There were several electrical power plants on the fairgrounds, and 8,000 arc lamps and 130,000 incandescent lamps lit the buildings and walkways. A huge statue of Benjamin Franklin flying his kite stood at the entrance of the building. Inside, the General Electric Company displayed search lights, power generators, incandescent lamps and railway motors. A 25m “tower of light” made from 30,000 pieces of cut glass and shaped like Thomas Edison’s incandescent map stood in the middle of General Electric’s exhibit.
The Machinery Hall, designed by Robert Swain Peabody of Peabody and Stearns. There were hundreds of American and foreign exhibits on display, which included “tools and machines to build America’s schools, railroads, bridges, street trolleys, and factories, as well as the utilities for clean water, sewerage removal, and power.” Visitors also saw machinery used to make textiles, shoes and hats, to fight fires, and to cut wood. Also on display were sewing machines, parlor stoves, kitchen ranges, pianos, magazines, books and newspapers. The fair’s power plant was also inside machinery hall. Sixty steam engines generated the 24,000 horsepower of electricity to run the machinery at the fair.
The Woman’s Building, designed by Sophia Hayden. Inside the building, every bit of available space was used for various displays, accomplishing a true feat of space efficiency. The first floor contained scaled-down models of a hospital and a kindergarten. Behind a curtain opposite the main entrance were the library, bureau of information, and records. The second story held a lady’s parlor, committee rooms, and dressing rooms. In the second story, the north pavilion featured a great assembly room with an elevated stage for speakers, as well as a clubroom, the south pavilion a model kitchen, refreshment room, as well as a reception room. There was a great deal of competition among many talented female artists for the honor of showing their work here, either inside or outside the pavilion.
Displays, both national and international, were extremely varied. In the library there were many books by female authors, as well as their autographs. There were also statistics which had been gathered on the conditions faced by women around the globe. Furthermore, there were canvas panels with images intended to represent several occupations performed by women. In the southwest corner lay the national displays of France, Mexico and Italy, and in the opposite corner the German exhibition. In the southernmost section the Spanish display, designed in Moorish style, presented the famed swords of Isabella, as well as portraits and jewels belonging to the queen. This was especially appropriate since the fair marked the 400-year anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the New World, with Queen Isabella as his patron.
The Transportation Building, designed by Adler & Sullivan. Inside there were exhibits from countries such as England, France, Japan, Canada, Russia, Austria and Turkey. The Baltimore & Ohio Railway Company hosted “The Railways Of The World” exhibit in the large annex, which was directly behind the main building. In one exhibition space, there was “a vast collection of American cars, locomotives and railway appliances of every possible description.” Visitors could access the gallery in the main building via six staircases and five elevators. There was also a rooftop promenade and cafe available for 10 cents.
Sullivan’s Transportation building, a striking structure of polychromed concentric arches in russet and gold, rich with his interlaced ornament, was seen as hopelessly out of step with the snowy grandeur of the fair’s paint-and-plaster Renaissance palaces.
The Fish and Fisheries Building designed by Henry Ives Cobb. It was the smallest of the “great buildings” at the fair. Ten large aquariums and dozens of smaller ones were inside, filled with virtually every form of sea life known to man.
The Horticulture Building designed by Jenney and Mundie. It contained eight greenhouses, with more than five acres of plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables. In addition, there was an entire pavilion dedicated to viticulture. There were wines from Australia, France, Russia, Austria, Canada, Japan, Germany and Spain.
The World’s Columbian Exposition was the first exposition to have national pavilions. Nearly 50 foreign countries and 43 US states and territories were represented in Chicago. American pavilions touted the country’s diverse history, food and culture with exhibits like Virginia’s replica of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, a century-old palm tree from California, a massive stained glass display by Louis Comfort Tiffany and a full-service Creole restaurant from Louisiana. Philadelphia even sent the Liberty Bell, as well as two replicas: one in rolled oats and one made of oranges. Architect Kirtland Cutter’s Idaho Building, a rustic log construction, was a popular favorite, visited by an estimated 18 million people. The building’s design and interior furnishings were a major precursor of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Not to be outdone, Norway sailed a full-sized replica of a Viking ship across the ocean for the fair, and German industrial giant Krupp spent the equivalent of more than $25 million in today’s money to mount a massive artillery display including a number of weapons that would later be used in World War I.
Many of the national pavilions were set up along the Midway, the large boulevard between Jackson Park and Washington Park. The Midway was designed to be fun, a great pleasure garden. Notices were placed in publications around the world to make it known that the Midway was an exotic realm of unusual sights, sounds, and scents. These were authentic villages from far-off lands inhabited by authentic villagers.
Whole villages were imported from Egypt, Algeria, Dahomey, Turkey and other far-flung places, along with their inhabitants! The Street in Cairo exhibit alone employed nearly 200 Egyptians and contained 25 distinct buildings, including a 1500 seat theater that introduced America to a new and scandalous form of entertainment – belly dancing 🙂
The World’s Columbian Exposition was also the first world’s fair with an area for amusements that was strictly separated from the exhibition halls. This amusements area concentrated on Midway Plaisance and introduced the term “midway” to American English to describe the area of a carnival or fair where sideshows are located.
The carnival rides included the original Ferris Wheel, built by George Ferris. The Ferris Wheel, rejected at first as a “monstrosity”, became the fair’s emblem, and it instantly eclipsed the tower of Alexandre Eiffel that had so wounded America’s pride. It also saved the fair from financial ruin, making a profit.
One attendee, George C. Tilyou, later credited the sights he saw on the Chicago midway for inspiring him to create America’s first major amusement park, Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, NY.
Visitors experienced the first moving walkway or travelator. It had two different divisions: one where passengers were seated, and one where riders could stand or walk. It ran in a loop down the length of a lakefront pier to a casino.
The fair was also the venue for the debut of consumer products which are so familiar today, including Cream of Wheat, Shredded Wheat (which was described by fair-goers as “shredded doormat” “sawdust” or “cardboard,” despite its later success), Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, Aunt Jemima syrup and Juicy Fruit gum. Carbonated soda and hamburgers also made their debut at the fair. The Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building was a showcase for American products, and showed them to advantage. Visitors tasted a new snack called Cracker Jack.
We like chocolate better! Mmmm, chocolate coated popcorn….
Technological products that would soon find their way into homes nationwide, such as the dishwasher and fluorescent light bulbs, had early prototype versions on display in Chicago as well. The US government also got in on the act, issuing the country’s first postcards and commemorative stamps and two new commemorative coins: a quarter and half dollar. The half dollar featured Christopher Columbus, in whose honor the fair had been staged, while the quarter depicted Queen Isabella of Spain, who had funded Columbus’ voyages, making it the first US coin to honor a woman.
It lasted just six months, yet during that time the gatekeepers recorded 27.5 million visits to the fair, at a time when the country’s total population was 65 million. On its best day the fair drew more than 700,000 visitors.
While most of the grand buildings and monuments from the fair have been destroyed, smaller elements of the World’s Fair have withstood the past century. One in particular is a ticket booth from the fair now stands in the garden of a famous Oak Park home, the Hills-DeCaro House. Since its retirement from the ticket business, the structure has been used as a garden toolshed, a rabbit hut and now a garden decoration.
That the fair had occurred at all, however, was something of a miracle. To build it, Burnham had to confront a legion of obstacles, any one of which could have been — should have been — a show stopper. But that is another story.