To highlight the natural resources of their regions, countries displayed arrays of fibers, woods, grains, resins, and oils. Today, we can get global goods easily, but in 1893, these now basic materials coming from far away lands were seen as exotic.
Besides showing plant-derived materials, the Fair offered a perfect opportunity for exhibitors to advertise new products. In many ways, the Fair served as a trade show.
Chicago’s own Wrigley corporation debuted Juicy Fruit chewing gum at the Fair. In 1893, the product was made from chicle, a natural gum resin. Cracker Jack and Shredded Wheat are two other plant-derived products unveiled during the show.
Although the Fair had a variety of botanical displays, everything the Museum acquired from the event represents only one area of study: economic botany. This discipline looks at ways people use plants for things like food, clothing, and shelter.
Economic botany is still a vital area of study today, although botanical research at the Museum is now centered on plant biodiversity. But while our mission may have expanded over time, the basic process of collecting and documenting plants has changed little during the past 120 years.