The Chicago World’s Fair – 1893

My great-grandfather, who was a Swede-Finn, was one of the thousands of labourers who built the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  It would be fascinating to know what he experienced.  It was a remarkable event.

Juicy Fruit, Shredded Wheat, clothing zippers, Hershey’s chocolate and the hamburger were some of the many new products that were first seen at the fair.  Over 27 million people went through the gates.  Stately white buildings designed in the Beaux-Art architectural style caused the fair to be known as ‘ The White City’.  Over 400 buildings, filled with cultural and commercial exhibits, covered 600 acres. 

Nikola Tesla and Westinghouse lit the buildings and introduced Americans to electric lighting.  The Ferris Wheel was invented for the fair – in an attempt to outshine the Eiffel Tower at the Paris World Exhibition.   Belly dancing and Hawaiian hula dancing entranced the crowds.  Wild Bill Hickok and Annie Oakley performed before packed audiences at the Wild West Show outside the fair grounds.

Walt Disney’s father, Elias, also worked on the construction of it.  Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom, The Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz and the poem ‘America, the Beautiful’ were all thought to be influenced by ‘ The White City’ of Chicago.  

After it was over, the head of the Chicago Police force noted that a surprisingly large number of people disappeared at the fair.  They had told family and friends they were going to Chicago and were never seen again.   There was no real explanation, although at least one serial murderer was preying on young women.

I recently finished a fascinating book by Erik Larson, called “The Devil in the White City.”   The book details how the Chicago architect, Daniel Burnham, leader of the fair’s Work Committee, oversaw the construction and design of it.   Also intertwined is the story of Dr.  H.H. Holmes,  a chillingly methodical psychopath who may have killed up to 27 people in his hotel – which had a gas chamber in the basement.

I think the most striking aspect about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair is people believed the future held amazing possibilities for the human race.   To many people, the future looks differently now.

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One Response

  1. You should be proud of your ancestor who worked on the fair. I just watched a PBS show about the fair and it seems way grander then the book (a great read) implied.

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