This exciting exhibition will run from October 25, 2013 through September 7, 2014. The Columbian Exposition was a wildly popular world’s fair that marked Chicago’s entrance on the global stage. It also marked the beginning of The Field Museum. Over 50,000 objects from the fair became part of the Museum’s founding collections. Now, visitors can travel back to 1893 and experience the excitement all over again.
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Image source: Chicago History Museum, IChi-02525
This day, October 9, 1893, was designated as Chicago Day at the World’s Fair, and it set a world record for outdoor event attendance with more than 700,000 fair visitors.
Over 200 buildings were built to create the fair, but they were only meant to be temporary. The White City is said to have inspired author L. Frank Baum to create the Emerald City in his book The Wizard of Oz.
The Midway skyline was dominated by a 250-foot Ferris wheel, designed for the fair by engineer George Ferris. This wheel was 100 feet taller than today’s Ferris wheel at Chicago’s Navy Pier and could carry 2,160 people.
According to several sources, fair admissions totaled more than 27,000,000. People from all over the world came to see things up close they could have never had access to otherwise, like this sea lion diorama in the fair’s Government Building.
In many ways, the fair was a “trade show.” Botany collections at the fair were displayed only to show resources available in other countries and the United States. Oils, woods, fibers, and grains will be seen by visitors in their original glass containers.
At the time of the fair, the sciences were rapidly developing. But it wasn’t until after the fair that the full scientific significance of specimens like these was realized. Scientists continue to make new discoveries on the earliest collections thanks to new technology.
Taxidermy allowed visitors to see unfamiliar animals from around the world. Exhibition visitors will be introduced to Carl Akeley, who worked for one of the fair’s exhibitors, and came to The Field Museum soon after the fair closed, where he continued to pioneer the art of taxidermy.
These are just a few of over 40 pieces that compose a gamelan, a traditional Indonesian instrument that was played at the fair; it is one of the Museum's most treasured artifacts. It is made up of an ensemble of different types of instruments; these lions are part of the xylophone portion.
This Sioux child’s vest and other Native American garments like it were worn by “live displays”—people from different cultural groups who lived in villages within the fair. Visitors bought tickets to visit different villages where they saw other cultures’ daily life, rituals, and performances.
To encourage attendance, the fair’s organizers made different tickets for themed days; “Chicago Day” was one. A ticket to the fair cost 50 cents for adults, 25 cents for children under 12, and admission was free for children under 6. Visitors to Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair will see a financial ledger used to track fair expenses.
This tiny piece of the Museum’s first catalogued meteorite is from one of the oldest recorded falls, occurring in the Czech Republic about the year 1400. The Elbogen Meteorite became known as the “bewitched burgrave.” According to ledged, a cursed count—known for his cruelty—was transformed into the meteorite and not even the hottest furnace could melt it.
Large collections of meteorites were displayed at the fair. Many became part of the founding collections of the Field Columbian Museum (in the photo). At the fair, meteorites were presented as curiosities. Their scientific importance was realized after the fair.
The fair was enormous; there were over 65,000 exhibits ranging from a 70-foot high tower of light bulbs to articulated skeletons. After the fair closed, visitors of the newly founded Field Columbian Museum could see many of these specimens in the Museum’s galleries, as seen in this image.
Displays came from all over the world. Visitors at the fair, and later at the Field Columbian Museum (in the photo), were in awe of things they had never seen before, like these giant mammal skeletons. Visitors today will also be in awe as they get to discover an array of objects, rarely or never been exhibited over the past 120 years.