Chicago Century of Progress Exposition

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This immensely popular exhibition on the shore of Lake Michigan attracted almost 49 million visitors over the two seasons that it was open. Initially conceived as an international exhibition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of the city of Chicago, the original ambitions of the 1933 Chicago Exposition were badly hit by the widespread economic and political consequences of the 1929 Wall Street Crash. As a result, the US National Research Council seized the initiative and sought to develop the exhibition theme around the considerable impact that science had exerted on the American way of life over the previous century. It also provided an opportunity to look towards a more prosperous future enhanced by technological progress. As was also to be the case at the New York World's Fair of 1939–40, major corporations such as General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, and Westinghouse played key roles in portraying the theme from their own particular corporate perspective, housed in colourful modernistic pavilions. Joseph Urban was coordinator of the colour schemes of the exhibition buildings that gave rise to the popular description of the exhibition site as ‘Rainbow City’ (as opposed to the ‘White City’ epithet of the Chicago World's Columbian Exhibition of 1893). A number of exponents of the newly emerging American industrial design profession were also involved in the portrayal of a modern, technologically informed society. These included Norman Bel Geddes, who was lighting consultant, Walter Dorwin Teague, consultant to several major exhibitors including the Ford Motor Company, for whom he designed the Rotunda, John Vassos, who designed the streamlined Exposition entry turnstiles, and Gilbert Rohde. Popular science fiction inspired the Sky Ride on which visitors could travel 200 metres above the centre of the site in double‐decker rocket cars, whilst on the ground they were able to encounter visions of the future in buildings such as George Keck's circular steel and glass House of Tomorrow, complete with aircraft hangar and garage for an automobile, an experience enhanced by the aerodynamic Goodyear blimp floating overhead, the streamlined Chrysler Airflow automobile in the ‘Wings of a Century’ exhibit, and Buckminster Fuller's teardrop‐formed, three‐wheeled Dymaxion Car No. 3. They could also see the potential of the photoelectric cell and marvel at the General Motors and Firestone assembly lines. In 1934, when the Exposition was opened for a second season, the public's imagination was caught by the streamlined railway locomotives Union Pacific M10,000 and the Burlington Zephyr, their sleek forms quite unlike anything they had previously seen on the American railroads. Crowds flocked in unprecedented numbers to see the record‐breaking stainless steel Zephyr (also the star of the 1934 Hollywood railway movie Silver Streak) and the fast, lightweight aluminium alloy M10,000, promoted as ‘Tomorrow's Train Today’. Such designs were in tune with the populist visions of the future portrayed in industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes's 1932 book Horizons, although the latter's ambitious architectural ideas for the Century of Progress Exhibition (including a tower top revolving restaurant and Aquarium Restaurant situated on the wall of a dam) were never built.


Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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