World's Columbian Exposition (1893)


Famed journalist Richard Harding Davis described the World?s Columbian Exposition as ?the greatest event in the history of the country since the Civil War. (Larson 5) This is quite a claim, as America had experienced several great events between the 1865 and 1893, including the creation of a railroad stretching from coast to coast in 1869 and the defeat of General Custer at The Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876 (Students for Students). Nevertheless, Davis?s claim is quite apt. The World?s Columbian Exposition (also known as the 1893 World?s Fair) (Larson 4) had a profound effect on Chicago, America and history.
The World?s Fair was significant, first because of its size and ingenuity. According to writer Erik Larson, the fair extended over an area larger than one square mile (Larson 5). America?s goal in creating the fair was to compete with France, which had impressed the world with its own exposition that some said nothing greater could ever be produced. This was important, because America was not yet a great power in the world and was competing against the greater European counrtries to make a name for itself during the Gilded Age. France?s exposition had brought about the still-famous Eiffel Tower and America had given Chicago the daunting task of creating something more impressive. The fact that Chicago, in just a short amount of time, was able to create wonders that ?eclipsed? the Eiffel tower and that managed to bring almost half of America?s population into one city is impressive in and of itself. The fact that the fair?s creators transported customs, wonders and even citizens of a number of far away countries makes it even more impressive. Out of the fair came such marvelous and lasting things as the Ferris wheel, Juicy Fruit gum, moving pictures, pancake mix, and an automatic dishwasher. (Larson 247-258). Yet, these things are only part of what permanently fixed the World?s Fair in the minds and memories of Americans.
Perhaps even more impressive than the wonders of the 1893 World?s Fair was that so many people of so many backgrounds managed to work together to create something on such a massive scale in so little time. Working against the clock and obstacles ranging from personal disagreements to natural challenges, a team of the city?s best architects, landscapers, artists, businessmen, news figures and planners all managed to work together to create something that Larson says none of them could have imagined on their own.
Furthermore, says Larson, the fair brought together some of the finest minds in the country for the first time: Among the attendees of the fair were the following: Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Clarence Darrow, George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison, Henry Adams, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, Nikola Telsa, Ignace Paderewski, Philip Armour and Marshall Field. The fact that the World?s Fair brought together the best of the country?s intellects, the most ingenious works of architecture the country had ever seen, the most novel foods (including Crackerjack and Shredded Wheat) and inventions alone make it memorable. But these things constitute only the bright side of the event.
The darker events may be what truly stand out in American memory and may give more credence to Harding?s claim. Certainly, they would have been important to Harding as a journalist, and they would fuel news stories for years. Among these darker events was the assassination of Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison. (Larson 330) This, according to Larson ?transformed the closing ceremony from what was to have been the century?s greatest celebration into a vast funeral.? (Larson 5) Yet, perhaps more chilling and more memorable than Carter?s assassination, were the other acts of horror that haunted the fair.