Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was a wildly popular world’s fair that drew over 25 million visitors and ushered in an era of American optimism and economic growth. Dubbed the “White City” because of the gleaming color of its buildings, the exposition was a historic event for the nation, a turning point for the city of Chicago, and the genesis of one of today’s most esteemed scientific institutions – The Field Museum.
Now, travel back to 1893 and experience the excitement of the White City in Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair (October 25, 2013 through September 7, 2014) and discover artifacts and specimens from The Field Museum’s collections that have rarely-or never been-exhibited in the past 120 years.
Lead sponsors: Allstate Insurance Company, Exelon, UL.
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 stood as a monument of civic pride for its industrial-era business leaders. The fair also built the reputation of its architectural supervisor, Daniel Burnham. The fair’s classically-themed, Beaux Arts exhibition halls showcased objects, art, technology, and displays from around the world. The fair presented the ability of America—and in particular, Chicago—to participate in the global market.
The Columbian Exposition also introduced the public to people and cultures from the far corners of the world. Although non-European cultures were depicted as exotic (a viewpoint undeniably offensive by today’s standards), many of the artifacts displayed in those exhibitions were outstanding.
Chicago’s late-19th century civic leaders, impressed by the fair’s exhibitions, decided to acquire many of the items for a new permanent museum commemorative of the fair. A major financial gift came when department store mogul Marshall Field, after touring the fair, donated the huge sum of one million dollars (the equivalent of over $30 million today). The museum established now bears his name.
Digital technology will bring the World’s Fair to life. Mural-size video projections and soundscapes will immerse visitors in the scenery and energy of the fair. A digital interactive will allow visitors to play an Indonesian gamelan, a musical ensemble consisting of a variety of instruments, including percussions and strings. The gamelan instruments were used for musical performances in a 1,000-seat theater in the heart of the Java Village in the Midway section of the fair. Today, the gamelan is one of the Museum’s most treasured artifacts.
Also on display will be gongs and xylophone-like pieces of the gamelan as well as theatrical masks worn during performances of Javanese music. Items such as a large Japanese vase, drums from the Museum’s Pacific collections, and Native American artifacts from both past and present will highlight how the Museum’s study of cultures began with the World’s Fair and continues today.
Visitors walking through the galleries will see items that thrilled fairgoers 120 years ago including large taxidermied animals, fully articulated animal skeletons, and ancient fish from Wyoming’s Green River fossil bed (recently discovered at the time of the fair and still being explored by Field Museum scientists today). The fair ushered in an age of exploration that led to important discoveries in paleontology and visitors will see dinosaur bones and skeletons that came from early Museum expeditions.
Exhibition visitors will also get an overview of the Museum’s history (including the formation of the founding collections, the Museum’s first home in Jackson Park, the construction of the current building and the moving of the Museum’s collections out of the old building and into the new in 1921) and the personalities who helped shape this institution (such as taxidermist Carl Akeley, paleontologist Elmer Riggs, anthropologist Franz Boas, and botanist Charles Millspaugh).
Visitors will learn how The Field Museum solidified its position as a place to learn about the wonders of the natural and man-made worlds. They can discover more about the Museum’s collections (now numbering 25 million specimens and artifacts) and see how, through cutting-edge research, objects from the collections – including those from the World’s Fair of 1893 – continue to yield fascinating new information.
Field Museum Admission
Tickets to Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair are included in both Discovery and All Access passes to the Museum. Discounts are available for Chicago residents. Tickets can be purchased at fieldmuseum.org. Special rates are available for tour operators and groups of 10 or more. Call our Group Sales office at (888) FIELD-85 for details.
The Field Museum is open 9am-5pm every day of the year except Christmas Day.
Location and Travel information
The Field Museum is located at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive. Visitors can travel to the Museum via CTA bus lines #6 and #146, as well as #130 (Memorial Day though Labor Day) or by taking the Metra electric and South Shore Lines. Parking is available next to the Museum’s east entrance or inside the Soldier Field underground lot, located across from the Museum’s main entrance.