World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 celebrated the 400th founding anniversary of America where Chicago fought for its privilege to hold the exposition for a whole year stretching from October 1892 – 1893. (“The World’s Columbian Exposition”) It was a memorable The exposition happened just 22 years after the Chicago fire of 1871, 28 years after the American Civil War, and finally in the wake (more than 7 years after) of the 1886 Haymarket Square bombing, which saw the birth of the “May Day” or May 1 “Loyalty Day”, an event commemorated by most of the world today (Thale, “World’s Columbian Exposition”). With London being able to organize the first ever and successful fair in the form of the London’s Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, most powerful governments such as the U.S. followed suit after. Chicago was head to head with New York City over the hosting privileges. While New York had the financial support, mostly in cash pledges, of its financial giants, Chicago had massive support not only from its business sector but also from the state and general public. It was clear then that Chicago zealously wanted such privilege and would do anything to win the same.
Preparations were done in parts with one team focusing on the architecture of the whole fair, headed by Daniel Burnham, and another on the exhibits and displays that would happen. Exhibits were themed to encompass a “veritable encyclopedia of civilization” (Rydell, “World’s Columbian Exposition”). The outcome was various monuments dedicated to the presentation of industrial and agricultural technologies, fine arts, and ethnography or civilization progress. However, the latter, supervised by Frederic Ward Putnam and positioned in Midway Plaisance, was greatly distinct from the other exhibits, so-named “White City” for its chalky white buildings, not just in location (Midway Plaisance was in a perpendicular angle to the “White City”) but also in its culture. From the initial concepts, Midway Plaisance became a hotpot of different ethnicities most notably African Americans, while “White City” was becoming a pure American theme. With policies for the fair becoming increasingly unfavorable for African Americans (i.e. proposals should be approved first by all-white state committees), African Americans were impelled to abandon preparations and attendance. Frederick Douglass fought for racial equality saying, “"the problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their own Constitution. . . “ (qtd. in Reed, ‘The Black Presence at “White City”’) and pleaded for their participation. Despite these, however, racial disparity continued and eventually led to the “separate-but-equal” belief and principles that was the status quo by the end of the 19th century. This is despite the fair’s general theme of establishing unity after a “fractured America” (Rose, “Reactions to the Fair”)
Even if failure to instill unity among Americans was perfectly clear from the fair, the powerful impact of the fair’s utopian visions commensurate for such disappointments. Indeed, the World’s Columbian Exposition paved way for the future in its 14-building exhibits. Stricken by the face of economic depression lurking outside the acres of the fair, people saw the “White City”, and perhaps the Midway Plaisance as well, as a vision or goal of what they hope America would be in the next decades and centuries. Through the exhibits, the country was able to demonstrate it strong position over commerce and trade, expressing America’s capacity not just for mass production but also for mass consumerism. While this might be a negative aspect for some such as Leo Tolstoy (Rose, “Reactions to the Fair”), it introduced to the world American corporations as “gatekeepers of technology, culture, and history” (Rose, “Legacy of the Fair”). An iconic progress seemingly being a product of the exposition was technology, most specifically electricity. The fair had successfully given more focus on the endless possibilities then of electricity and how it should be celebrated rather than feared (Rose, “Legacy of the Fair”). The exhibits of Commerce and Technology made its way from the “White City” to the Midway that the overall impression of the exposition was a road to the future America.
Reed, Christopher Robert. “The Black Presence at “White City”: African and African American Participation at the World’s Columbian Exposition.” World’s Columbian Exposition of 1983. Paul V. Galvin Library, 8 Mar. 1999. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.
Rose, Julie K. “Legacy of the Fair”. The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath. Virginia.edu, n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.
Rose, Julie K. “Reactions to the Fair”. The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath. Virginia.edu, n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.
Rydell, Robert W. “World’s Columbian Exposition”. Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society, n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.
“The Midway Plaisance”. World’s Columbian Exposition of 1983. Paul V. Galvin Library, 16 Jan. 1999. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.
“The World’s Columbian Exposition”. ChicagoHS. Chicago Historical Society, n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.
Thale, Christopher. “World’s Columbian Exposition”. Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society, n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.
Wells, Ida B. The Reason Why The Colored American is not in the World’s Columbian Exposition.A Celebration of Women Writers, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.
World’s Columbian Exposition of 1983. Paul V. Galvin Library, 15 Mar. 1999. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.