The World's Columbian Exposition of Chicago

Electricity was used to decorate the buildings with incandescent lights, illuminate fountains, and power three huge spotlights.

The World’s Columbian Exposition was an exposition held in the American city of Chicago in 1893 with the aim of celebrating the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in the year 1492. Also known as the World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition and was the largest of its time with an attendance of over 27 million visitors over its six-month period. The exposition had a profound influence on society and culture, and had a lasting effect on architecture, arts, sanitation, Chicago’s image, and America’s industrial dream.


The exposition was the second to be held in the US (the first, in Philadelphia, had widely been regarded as a failure). The idea of commemorating the 400th anniversary was conceived several years prior, and the cities of St. Louis, New York, Chicago, and Washington DC all expressed their interest in hosting the event. A bidding war ensued to select the hosting city where the banker, Lyman Gage brought victory to Chicago after raising millions of dollars, surpassing the budget of other cities. The organizers established Jackson Park as the site to have the event, and hundreds of temporary buildings and other structures were put up which were architectural marvels.

The Event

The World’s Columbian Exposition was opened to the public on May 1st, 1893 and featured 46 countries which had set up respective pavilions. The exposition was the first in history to have international participants set up national pavilions. The area on which the exposition was held covered 630 acres on the area surrounding Jacksons Park. The expo had several star attractions including the original 264-feet tall Ferris Wheel by George Washington Ferris Jr. Other key attractions included three life-size recreations of the ships used by Christopher Columbus: the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria.

Significance Of The Exposition

The World’s Columbian Exposition was held 400 years after the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. The expo was also held 28 years after the end of the Civil War and 22 years after the devastating Chicago fire and took place only seven years after the class violence of Haymarket Square bombing. Hence, the exposition was aimed to bring together a largely fragmented country through the celebration of its achievements over the years. The exposition was also meant to open Chicago to foreign and local investors as well as selling the city as a tourist destination.


The World’s Columbian Exposition was not without controversy when the city’s mayor Carter Harrison was assassinated two days to the closing ceremony. The assassination turned the closing ceremony into a memorial service for the popular mayor.


The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 might have been only the second of many expositions that would later be held in the United States, but it set the bar high and left a long-lasting legacy. Another exposition, the St. Louis 1901 Fair was based entirely on the World’s Columbian Exposition mainly based on its cultural aspects. Another exposition, the Pan-Pacific Exposition, was held in San Francisco in 1915. Many of the exhibits which debuted on the World’s Columbian Exposition were to become critical in the next century such the DC and AC electricity as well as the Ferris wheel.


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