[Photo of 1893 Exposition]

The Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893

In 1890, in the middle of the gold rush as America industrialized itself, the Congress authorized a World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the "discovery" of America.

Chicago had come into itself in the decade before the Exposition. In 1871, the city had been razed by a fire, but in just 22 years, they had raised skyscrapers over the prairie and were ready to play host to the world. Nervous about how their brash new architecture would play to the world, the city fathers established a commission of the best architects and designers, who produced a "white city" from 686 acres from the swamps on the south side.

From May-October, 28 million visitors came to the Exposition. In charge of construction was Daniel Burnham, who, based on the grand success of his work in Chicago, was later put in charge of rescuing the dusty plans L'Enfant made in 1792 and reconstructing Washington, D.C. as a "city of parks and vistas." It is ironic that the city that helped invent modern architecture ended up with a fair full of classical imitations, buildings modeled after the Rennaisance and the Classics. [Boorstin, pp. 549-550]

Chicago set a new standard for World's Fairs, bringing in 21.5 million paid subscribers while letting in another 6 million people on free passes. The gate of $14 million surpassed the previous record holder, the Paris Exhibition in 1889 which had collected a then-astounding $8.3 million.

The Birth of Electricity


Daniel J. Boorstin, The Creators, Random House (New York, 1992). A panoramic sweep of man's creations and creators through history.

Thomas P. Hughes, Electrification of America, Technology and Culture, Vol. 20, No. 1, January, 1979, reprinted in Terry S. Reynolds, ed., The Engineer in America, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, 1991).

Louis C. Hunter and Lynwood Bryant, A History of Industrial Power in the United States, 1780-1930. Vol 3: The Transmission of Power MIT Press (Cambridge, MA, 1991).

Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electrical Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century, Oxford University Press (Oxford, 1988). Marvin looks at how we viewed new technology when it was new.

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