THIS year marks the centennial anniversary of the great...

Salmagundi

July 01, 1993

THIS year marks the centennial anniversary of the great Columbian Exposition of Chicago in 1893, which commemorated the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America.

(Yes, we know: Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety-two. The real 400th anniversary was celebrated in 1892 in Seville, Spain, from whence Columbus had set sail for the New World; the final part of the celebration took place in America the following year during the 401st anniversary.)

The exposition served to highlight the great strides in American cultural advancement, negating any doubts about American inferiority.

It attracted the latest in American technology and arts as well as exhibits from 72 different countries and the best architects from around the world to construct 150 buildings -- sort of the 19th century's version of a World's Fair.

Foreign visitors were amazed by what they saw in and around the exposition -- American technology, factory management, mass production, the short hours and high pay of American workers, and especially the inventive uses of electricity.

Congress picked Chicago as the host city over Washington, St. Louis and New York. The town went from being called "Porkopolis" to being dubbed the "Windy City" by New York newspapers because of all the promotional excesses used to proclaim the excellence of the Midwestern city.

This exposition also spurred a "city beautiful" movement in the late 1800s to make cities more attractive and livable by paying more attention to the aesthetics of buildings and by devoting more space to parks.

Among the most popular exhibits in the giant Hall of Agriculture: an 11-ton cheese from Ontario, Canada; a 1,500-pound chocolate Venus de Milo from New York, and a cotton display where miniature cotton bales were sold as souvenirs by former slaves who had worked in Southern cotton fields prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Columbian Exposition also gave us a lasting icon of the American cultural scene -- the Ferris wheel. It was designed by George Washington Gale Ferris and cost $300,000 to build. The massive ride weighed 1,200 tons and carried 36 cars, each holding 40 persons.

Needless to say, the Ferris wheel turned into the most popular attraction at the 1893 fair.

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