Fun Facts About the World's Columbian Exposition

  • The Columbian Exposition was held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing in the New World.  However, instead of opening in 1892 (the actual anniversary) the fair opened one year later.  It ran from May 1-October 31, 1893. A new national holiday – Columbus Day – was one result of the fair’s popularity.
  • Visitors came from all over the world. A ticket to the fair cost 50 cents, 25 cents for children under 12, and admission was free for children 6 and under.
  • Fredrick Law Olmsted, America’s foremost landscape architect, laid out the grounds and created a system of lagoons around which over 40,000 skilled laborers constructed the fair’s buildings.
  • There were over 65,000 exhibits at the fair. The fair covered 630 acres in Chicago’s Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance-a narrow strip of land designated as an amusement area. Although other world’s fairs had been held in the 19th century, the Columbian Exposition was the first to have an area specifically for “amusement.”
  • Over 50,000 objects on display at the fair became part of the Anthropology collections of the Field Columbian Museum, later renamed The Field Museum. The founding collections of the Museum came mainly from three of the fair’s main buildings-the Anthropology Building, the Horticulture Building, and the Mines, Mineralogy, and Metallurgy Building-as well as from the cultural villages displayed in the fair grounds and Midway.
  • The Midway skyline was dominated by a 250-foot Ferris wheel, designed for the fair by inventor George Ferris. It was 100 feet taller than today’s Ferris wheel at Chicago’s Navy Pier and had 36 cars capable of holding 60 people each. Fully loaded, it could carry 2,160 people.  
  • The White City was said to have inspired author L. Frank Baum to create the Emerald City in his book The Wizard of Oz.
  • Several products introduced at the fair are still popular today, including Shredded Wheat, diet carbonated soda, Aunt Jemima syrup and pancake mix, and Chicago’s own Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum.
  • At night, the fair was lit by hundreds of thousands of electric light bulbs that created a truly magical scene.  However, the many types of electricity, beyond just the light bulb, were what made the electricity displays at the fair so significant. There were a variety of home-improvement items, such as "gadgets including hot plates, fans, bells, bed warmers, radiators, and a complete Model Electrical Kitchen with a small range, saucepan, water heater, broiler, and kettle" (from the Preface of Book of the Fair, by Hubert Howe Bancroft).