Thursday, August 09, 2007 08/09/07-World's Fair of 1893

In today's encore excerpt--competing against the likes of New York, Washington and St. Louis, Chicago wins from Congress the right to hold the World's Columbian Exposition, commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America. Chicago, newly affluent and anxious to impress, but still the foul-smelling slaughterhouse of the Midwest, is America's great hope for trying to best the success of the Paris World's Fair of 1889:

"It lasted just six months, yet during that time its gatekeepers recorded 27.5 million visits, this when the country's total population was 65 million. On its best day the fair drew more than 700,000 visitors. ... Visitors wore their best clothes and most somber expressions, as if entering a great cathedral. Some wept at its beauty. They tasted a new snack called Cracker Jack and a new breakfast called Shredded Wheat. Whole villages had been imported from Egypt, Algeria, Dahomey, and other far-flung locales, along with their inhabitants. The 'Street in Cairo' exhibit alone employed nearly two hundred Egyptians and contained twenty-five distinct buildings, including a fifteen-hundred-seat theater that introduced America to a new and scandalous form of entertainment [called belly-dancing].

"Within the fair's buildings, visitors encountered devices and concepts new to them and to the world. They heard live music played by an orchestra in New York and transmitted to the fair by long-distance telephone. They saw the first moving pictures on Edison's Kinetoscope, and they watched, stunned, as lightning chattered from Nikola Tesla's body. They even saw more ungodly things--the first zipper; the first-ever all-electric kitchen, which included an automatic dishwasher; and a box purporting to contain everything a cook would need to make pancakes, under the brand name Aunt Jemima's. They sampled a new, oddly flavored gum called Juicy Fruit, and ... a new beer did well, winning the exposition's top beer award. Forever after, its brewer called it Pabst Blue Ribbon. ...

"One of the most compelling, and chilling, exhibits was the Krupp Pavilion, where Fritz Krupp's 'pet monster' [artillery soon to bring unprecedented death and destruction during World War I] stood at the center of an array of heavy guns."

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City, Crown, 2003, pp. 4-5, 247-8.


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