Chicago World's Columbian Exhibition

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The World's Columbian Exhibition was planned to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' ‘discovery’ of the New World and attracted more than 27 million visitors in the six months that its vast 685‐acre (277‐hectare) site was open. Unlike a number of the large international exhibitions, such as those in Paris in 1878 and 1889, the exhibition buildings were designed to a coherent plan and built in a consistent ‘Neoclassical Florentine’ or Beaux‐Arts style. Despite this quasi‐Imperialistic style, which appeared disappointingly conservative and unadventurous to European critical eyes, it exerted a considerable influence on many American public and commercial buildings in the following decades. Painted in uniform white the exhibition buildings gave the fair the popular title of ‘White City’, the only exception to this being the ornamental and colourful Transportation Building designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler. Chicago was a major industrial city, being the epitome of modern industrial manufacturing techniques, a major industrial centre, and the hub of the national railway network. As in other international exhibitions from the Great exhibition of 1851 onwards, the public were able to marvel at technological progress, particularly electricity. Technology was closely linked to progress, a theme taken up in subsequent American international expositions, most notably the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition of 1933 and the landmark New York World's Fair of 1939–40. At Chicago 1893 Edison's incandescent lighting not only intensified the brightness of the white finishes of the neoclassical architecture and sculpture throughout the site but was widely in evidence within the displays themselves, as in the Westinghouse and General Electric exhibits in the Electricity Building and the manufacturing industry presentations in the Machinery Hall. Electricity for the exhibition was powered by steam engine and provided three times the electrical consumption needed for the rest of the city. Visitors also experienced the world's first Ferris Wheel (a marvel that competed with the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889 and stood 250 feet (75 metres) high with 36 compartments containing up to 60 passengers each), a moving pavement, the world's first elevated electrical railway, and Thomas Edison's Kinetograph, a forerunner of the cinema projector. On the Midway Pleasance the glass factories of the Libby Glass Company and the Venice and Murano Company also showed glass being made on site, where it could be purchased. The Transportation Building showed the latest developments in that arena, including automobiles, railways, and a cross‐section of an ocean liner, whilst moored to the main pier on the shores of Lake Michigan was the US battleship Illinois. The largest building was that devoted to Manufactures and the Liberal Arts where all the major European and American manufacturers were displayed in a 30‐acre (12‐hectare) display site. American manufactures were represented in large quantities and comprised the largest collection of exhibits ever shown by a host nation at an international world's fair. Although it was felt by some American critics that overseas competitors overshadowed certain design fields, as in the case of porcelain and cut‐glass (Austria and Bohemia) or silks (France), they felt that the US showing marked considerable advances from an industrial and artistic standpoint, certainly since the nation's first incursion as host to an international exhibition, the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. Amongst the more prestigious and expensive items on show at Chicago in 1893 were the products of the Gorham Manufacturing Company and Tiffany & Co., the latter exhibiting more than 1,000 pieces valued at more than $2 million. This included the so‐called million dollar vase as well as many other expensive items of jewellery and glassware. Of the British companies ceramic manufacturers Doulton & Co. and Burslem Potteries were prominent; also noteworthy were the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Companies.


Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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