Witness the wonders of the original World’s Fair through historic photos taken at the time. See street scenes of “The White City,” gaze in awe at the Fair’s most amazing attractions, discover more about scientific knowledge and attitudes of the age, and view exhibits that eventually made their way to The Field Museum.
Take a look at just a few of the many fantastic historic photos that will bring the event to life in our Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair exhibition.
After the Great Fire of 1871, much of Chicago lay in ruins. The opening of the Columbian Exposition just 22 years later signaled Chicago’s resurrection and instilled hope in an era rife with financial panic, social turmoil, and rapid change.
Dubbed “The White City” because of its gleaming neoclassical buildings, the Fair is said to have inspired author L. Frank Baum to create the Emerald City in his book The Wizard of Oz.
© The Field Museum, GN90799d_JWH_069w, Photographer William Henry Jackson
Considered the greatest World’s Fair of all time, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition honored the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in America by celebrating cultural and industrial progress.
The famed Ferris Wheel was an engineering marvel and the Fair’s largest attraction. Designed for the Fair by engineer George Ferris, the wheel could carry 2,150 people and measured 250 feet in diameter—that’s 100 feet taller than today’s Ferris wheel at Chicago’s Navy Pier!
© The Field Museum, GN91825d, Photographer C.D. Arnold, H.D. Higinbotham
People came from all over the world to see the Fair, which welcomed more than 25 million visitors during its six-month run. Fair promoters created special “days” to advertise and engage as many local citizens as possible.
For example, “Chicago Day”—held on October 9th to mark the anniversary of the Chicago Fire—set a world record for outdoor event attendance with more than 700,000 visitors.
© The Field Museum, GN90799d_JWH_031w, Photographer William Henry Jackson
Fair exhibits showed the diversity of our natural world, displaying exotic animals visitors could have only dreamed of seeing. The woolly mammoth and giant octopus models pictured here were part of the Ward’s Natural Science Establishment display.
Visitors will see this same octopus in the Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair exhibition, as well as many other taxidermied animals and skeletons that once allowed visitors an up-close look at strange and possibly scary creatures.
© The Field Museum, GN90799d_CG_110w, Photographer The Werner Company
In many ways, the Fair served as a trade show. Intending to emphasize the progress of the Western world, states and countries presented botanical (plant-based) materials to demonstrate available natural resources—sometimes in ways that may seem odd today.
Within the Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair exhibition, images of the original Fair, like this display of enormous tree trunks from the Forestry Building, will be brought to life via mural-sized video projections.
© The Field Museum, GN90799d_CG_206w, Photographer The Werner Company
At the Fair, large collections of meteorites were presented as curiosities. Scientists of the time knew that these were rocks from outer space, but superstitions still lingered.
Many of the Fair’s meteorites eventually became part of the founding collections of the Field Columbian Museum (pictured in the photo.) Today, our scientists have analyzed the chemical compositions of several of these specimens to learn about the formation of our solar system and the history of our galaxy.
© The Field Museum, CSGEO3039
The Fair brought the world to Chicago. Unfortunately, people from around the world were also brought to the Fair and put on exhibit in reconstructed “native” villages. Offensive by today’s standards, the Fair’s approach reflected late 19th-century theories of anthropology.
Pictured here is a reconstructed village of the Kwakwaka’wakw (KWAH kwah kya wak), First Peoples from British Columbia, called Kwakiutl in 1893. Seventeen tribe members lived in this village for the duration of the Fair.
© The Field Museum, A106227
A group of ladies on the Fair’s Midway stare at native Samoans. Notice the women’s facial expressions. The Fair probably didn’t facilitate much understanding, but it was the first time most visitors rubbed elbows with non-Western people.
The Samoans lived in a reconstruction of a South Sea Islands village, where visitors paid 25 cents to enter and observe “traditional” life. These villages often made Native people seem “primitive” to reinforce a central message of the Fair: the Western world was the most advanced civilization.
© Chicago History Museum, ICHi-25237