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World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893

The complicated title is a foreshadowing of what is to come. The event described as the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 is more than a commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to America; it was also an exposition of the American way of life from its cottage industries to the technological breakthrough pioneered by some of the great American men and women of the 19th century. It is also a display of American ingenuity and talent that was honed in the many centuries since the first European settlers came to the New World. In the end, the Chicago World Fair became not only a celebration of America but also a form of advertising the many wonderful capabilities of the United States something that American citizens longed to communicate to their friends across the Atlantic. The event turned out to be better than expected as millions of people travelled long distances to see the exhibits. But more importantly the Chicago World Fair changed America in more ways than one.

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The Rationale

The purpose of the event is to remember the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage to the New World but it was also a project that was driven by the need to prove that the Americans are in the same league as their European counterparts. It can be argued that American proponents were partly inspired by the huge success of the 1878 and the 1889 Paris world fairs (Bolotin & Laing, p. 1). Aside from that Americans already had an idea of how to build one because of the hugely popular 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia (Bolotin & Laing, p. 1). Many wanted it to happen but it required the signing of an act by then-President Harrison that would release funds needed for initial construction as well as a final decision with regards to the site of the Columbian Exposition. After a long wait, it was Chicago that was chosen as the site for the event.

The initial budget required $14 million to prepare the site and to construct the core buildings (Bolotin & Laing, p. 4) It did not take long to realize that the proposed budget was not enough to cover everything. The planners neglected to include the cost of the actual exhibits, more or less 65,000 private, state, and international displays (Bolotin & Laing, p. 4). For this reason, the budget was doubled to $28 million. It was therefore a good thing that attendance reached 27.5 million people that generated $11 million in revenue (Bolotin & Laing, p. 4). This made the Columbian Exposition not only a cultural success; it was also a financial success as organizers were even able to make money.


Without a doubt, the people who had a direct and indirect hand in the creation of the Chicago World Fair had a change of mindset when they saw the finished product. The ability to transform 63 hectares of land into a fantasy landscape – that contains a gigantic Ferris Wheel, a massive block of cheese, a tower full of light bulbs and many more – was a tremendous source of pride for the Americans. While many marvelled at the capability of Americans to create something as grand as the Chicago World Fair, the visitors were excited to view the various products and technologies that were presented to the public.

While the euphoria of the event lasted only for a short period of time the exhibits and the items displayed inside the buildings and the structures seen in the park and exposition grounds influenced the behaviour of Americans and altered the way they think. For instance, many of the products that were displayed in the Chicago World Fair became everyday features of American life (Chicago Historical Society, p. 4). An example would be the Juicy Fruit Gum and the Quaker Oats (Chicago Historical Society, p. 4). The various congresses changed the way visitors think about themselves and society. Finally, the parks and the beautiful construction of the grounds and the building encouraged many American visitors to beautify their respective cities (Chicago Historical Society, p. 4). The millions of dollars in expenditures did not go to waste.


There is a general consensus that prior to the Columbian Exposition of 1893, America was under the shadow of Europeans in terms of culture, society and politics. London and Paris were the gold standards when it comes to creating a beautiful and functional city. The Americans needed a way to demonstrate to the whole world that they are capable of doing the same thing. The Columbian Exposition became the vehicle in which Americans would showcase its resources, technological prowess and other capabilities for the whole world to see. It was a very expensive proposition worth more or less $28 million. But the exhibits, structures, and products that were displayed were the evidence that the citizens of the United States must not be underestimated. Aside from the recognition that it received from the international community the Columbian Exposition prompted the use of new products and technology that would become fixtures of American life. Even after the exhibits were disassembled the memory of the Word’s Fair of 1893 impacted the lives of many that even after many decades it was still remembered as one of the major historical turning points in American history.

Works Cited

Bolotin, Norm & Laing, Christine. The World’s Columbine Exposition: the Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893. IL: University of Illinois Press, 2002.

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Chicago Historical Society. The World’s Columbian Exposition. 2009. Web.

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