This Week in History: Chicago World’s Fair Closes

This week saw Chicago’s widely successful World’s Columbian Exposition come to an end in 1893.

It sounded like a task handed down to Hercules – transform a city ravaged by fire just two decades before into a home for the most spectacular world fair ever seen. Amidst massive corruption at just about every level and constant money troubles, Chicago’s World Fair also had the hopes of the nation on its shoulders. Just 25 years after tearing itself apart, America was now desperate to prove itself as a serious player on the world stage.

Somehow expectations were smashed and the fair was a sensation, bringing in over 750,000 people in a single day, a world record at the time.

Close to 2% of everyone alive at the time visited the World’s Fair. In today’s equivalent, that would be roughly the population of Great Britain and Germany combined. Credit: Nichols, H. D.

From wacky attractions, such as a Venus de Milo statue made entirely out of chocolate, to the world debuts of fluorescent light bulbs, commercial cinemas and Juicy Fruit gum, this was the fair to end all fairs. The buildings, designed in a neoclassical style seldom seen in the US at the time, seemed to shine down at visitors due to a clever use of paint and white stucco. Electricity, still a rare sight anywhere in the world, was everywhere, lighting up vast swathes of land and leading to the centre of the expo being nicknamed The White City.

The fair had many incredible attractions, but the pièce de résistance was possibly the world’s first Ferris wheel. Opened in June, it carried almost 40,000 passengers a day at its peak and was an instant hit.

By the time the gates were closed on October 30th, the Chicago World’s Fair had drawn in over 26 million people and cemented America’s status as the country of the future.

(Credit for featured image of the Electrical Building: Trialsanderrors)


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