Chicago History: The World’s Fair

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Chicago World’s Fair, more popularly known as The World’s Columbian Exposition, was held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival into the New World. 

The purpose of the event was to learn about the world’s progress through the last four centuries. The fair provided a showcase for new products, inventions, art, and architecture. People from all over the country came to Chicago to participate in the event. 

Hosting this event was a major honor due to the many cities who competed to host it including New York City, Washington D.C, and St. Louis. The  exposition was a huge cultural and social event and had a large effect on the arts and architecture. 

The exposition covered 700 acres in the city and set up a variety of structures and exhibits to be used for the fair. The Jackson Park area contained the great buildings and exhibits. The Midway Plaisance area had the Ferris Wheel with other attractions and forms of entertainment. 

It was the first exposition to have national pavilions that represented all the states and other foreign territories.  These attractions gave the exposition the nickname, “The White City.” This was because of the sudden appearance of all these massive white buildings. Although the buildings were not permanent, they inspired architecture. 

The Neo-Classical buildings of the White City became templates for public buildings, banks, and buildings downtown. They also influenced the designs of the museums that are by Chicago’s lakefront. Chicago’s famous Field Museum and The Museum of Science of Science and Industry were inspired by the exhibits used in the exposition.

Chicago was greatly impacted by the event in many ways.The fair promoted the rapid urbanization of the South Side. New housing blocks and an elevated L train line was built for the fair’s workers. There were also many hotels and entertainment venues created that eventually evolved into some huge resort destinations. 

The Ferris Wheel is also one of the fair’s most well known features. The Ferris Wheel was invented in 1893 for the exposition’s amusements area and now there are thousands of “Chicago Wheels” in cities all around the world! 

 The Field Museum is currently traveling back to the World Fair with their World Fair collection. When the fair ended, the museum gained several items used in the exhibit! Some of these items are still on display today! The monumental totem poles when you walk into the museum were used in the fair to showcase different cultures throughout the world. They also have the whale skeleton on display that was used in the fair. If you’re curious about stepping back into that time, you’ll have to stop by the Field Museum’s collection. 


The millions of visitors who came to Chicago took home ideas during the fair. They learned about new technology, industry, and entertainment.The event inspired so many inventions that are used all over the world! Some examples are spray paint, an electric railway, the vacuum cleaner, the electric dishwasher, and the zipper. No wonder this historic fair is still talked about today. It helped shape Chicago and place it at the center of the country as a leading city.

Written By: Megan Collins

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