Published: October 5, 2015

The 1893 Columbian World's Fair: A lead up to The Field Museum

Jenna Lieblich, Membership Manager, Programs, Membership
A huge crowd stands outside the Indiana Building at the Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893. The Palace of Fine Arts building is in the background.

On May 1, 1893, The Chicago World’s Fair opened to the public. This magnificent exposition stood right along the lake front, spanning more than 630 acres. With a 264-foot-high Ferris Wheel and spectacular buildings, mostly of the neoclassical architectural style, the Fair demonstrated the global presence and prosperity that Chicago had to offer. Marked as a great public endeavor for the city, the idea of a World’s Fair actually began a decade earlier. The first public proposal to hold a fair in Chicago was submitted to a Chicago newspaper by a local dentist by the name of Dr. A W Harlan. In the following years several additional citizens proposed similar requests, but no action was taken until July 1888, when a group of prominent citizens met and resolved themselves to promote a “World’s Fair in the City of Chicago.” The Columbian World’s Fair was meant to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America, but there was one more reason the citizens of Chicago were eager to host the fair. In 1871, Chicago experienced the greatest disaster in the young city’s history – The Great Chicago Fire. The fire destroyed more than 17,000 structures, caused over $200 million in damages and left thousands homeless. By 1888, the city and its inhabitants had recovered and grew more prosperous. A fair of this importance would signify the resilience and prosperity of the city and reinforce its position in the world market. On April 25, 1890, Congress granted Chicago the privilege of holding the World’s Columbian Exposition, in part due to Marshall Field’s proposed financial support. Over its six-month run, the fair was attended by more than 27 million people.

(Check back next week to see how the story of The Field Museum unfolds.)

One hundred and twenty-two years ago, an act of philanthropy established The Field Museum. Today, support from members like you sustains that act. From fossils to fungi, mummies to meteorites, we have them all. Invest in YOUR museum. Mark your calendars for Wednesday, October 28, 2015 and make a gift on our first annual Giving Day!

©The Field Museum, GN90799d_JWH_041w, Photographer William Henry Jackson.