1893 World's Columbian Exposition Collection

For six short months in 1893, Jackson Park in Chicago was home to one of the largest and most spectacular expositions of the 19th Century. Near the close of the Fair, The Field Columbian Museum (now The Field Museum) was founded. When the Museum opened in 1894, visitors could once again experience many of the exhibits they had seen at the fair. Thousands of objects exhibited at the Fair were donated or sold to the new museum, and they have been cared for by the Anthropology Department since then. Many of those objects have not been viewed by the public since 1893!

Anthropology in 1893 was a very new branch of social science, and leading anthropologists came together to build the anthropology exhibits at the 1893 World's Fair. Some went on trips dedicated to collecting objects to display at the World's Fair; others worked to construct exhibits inside and outside the Anthropology Building.

This web site features some of the thousands of objects brought into the Anthropology Department of the Field Columbian Museum from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Please be our guest in this virtual museum, and explore and examine the many different types of objects in our collections from different cultures around the world.

 

Gigantic expositions and fairs were very popular in the late 19th century. In 1890 Chicago won Congressional approval to host a world's fair to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in present-day America. Chicago's business and civil leaders successfully had emerged from previous economic and social challenges to a new era in which they promised recovery, growth, and civic pride. According to the 1890 census, Chicago was the second largest U.S. city after New York City with a population of 1,099,850 people. Fair directors wanted to demonstrate Chicago's rising status by producing a magnificent, world-class event. Following the lead of other cities' successful expositions and fairs, Chicago leaders expected the World's Columbian Exposition (WCE) to be a magnetic force drawing old residents and new immigrants more closely around city leadership's plans and visions for the future. The WCE would feature the latest technology, dazzling new buildings and exhibits, celebrity visitors, and, of course, the "exoticism" of the Midway Plaisance, which was home to for-profit concessions, many featuring representations of far-away cottages, streets, or villages.

Chicago's leaders hoped the WCE would provide more than jobs, goods and services to residents. WCE organizers designed the fair to promote their "civilization"—their cultural values and accomplishments in particular, and to suggest that visitors to the WCE compare and contrast these accomplishments with those of the diverse peoples whose lives and products were displayed at the Exposition. The gleaming White City with its dazzling technology and monumental size was to be living proof of the promise and progress of Western nations, and a stark contrast to the colonial villages of the Midway Plaisance.