The World's Columbian Exposition

The World’s Columbian Exposition, also referred to as the Chicago World’s Fair, the Great Chicago Fair and the White City, was a national exhibition built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus to the New World. It spanned five months, opening May 1 and coming to a close October 30.

Millions of visitors - many from abroad - came to Chicago, marveling at the glories displayed at the Fair. An entire faux city was constructed, mostly of impermanent materials, on the midway in Hyde Park. The White City was a national, state, and city celebration of American art, commerce, economic progress and an end-of-century American enthusiasm. The exhibit halls reflect the way many Americans thought about themselves and their country; many seem quaint or even bizarre when seen from our vantage point. The one remaining building from the Fair is the present Museum of Science and Industry. Its imposing architecture and ambitious intellectual and educational mission are in the spirit of the Exposition.

When the Fair was over a fire gutted most of the temporary buildings. The pride and bombast of the Fair turned sour with the onset of an economic depression - The Panic of 1893. By the end of that year, the combination of depressed economic conditions and the excess of labor the Fair had drawn to Chicago had thrown 100,000 men onto its streets. A smallpox epidemic was also gathering momentum at the end of the summer; some said it started with a few unreported cases at the Fair.

Florence Kelley, Jane Addams and a number of other prominent women in Chicago publicly resigned from the Fair planning committee in protest. Florence Kelley took her son, Nicholas, to the Fair and pronounced it beautiful. She was much occupied that summer, however, with her new responsibilities as the first female Factory Inspector in the country.

next: The Panic of 1893