Centennial Exposition

Centennial Exposition

The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the first official World's Fair in the United States, was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. It was officially the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine. It was held in Fairmount Park, along the Schuylkill River. The fairgrounds were designed by Hermann Schwarzmann. About 10 million visitors attended, equivalent to about 20% of the population of the United States at the time (though many were repeat visitors).


The idea of the Centennial Exposition is credited to John L. Campbell, a professor of mathematics, natural philosophy and astronomy at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana.cite book |last=Gross |first=Linda P. |coauthors=Theresa R. Snyder |title=Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition |date=2005 |publisher=Arcadia Publishing | pages = page 7 |id=ISBN 0-7385-3888-4 ] In December 1866, Campbell first suggested to Philadelphia's mayor that the United States Centennial be celebrated with an exposition in Philadelphia. The idea had detractors; there was concern that the project would not be able to find funding, whether other nations would attend and that if they did, would the United States' exhibitions be able to stand up against foreign exhibits. Despite the concerns the plan moved forward.cite book |last=Wainwright |first=Nicholas |coauthors=Russell Weigley and Edwin Wolf |title=Philadelphia: A 300-Year History |date=1982 |publisher=W.W. Norton & Company | pages = page 460 |id=ISBN 0-393-01610-2 ]

The Franklin Institute became an early supporter of the exposition and asked the Philadelphia City Council for use of Fairmount Park. In January 1870 the City Council resolved to hold the Centennial Exposition in the city in 1876. Both Philadelphia City Council and the Pennsylvania General Assembly created a committee to study the project and seek support of the U.S. Congress. Congressman William D. Kelley spoke for the city and state and Daniel Johnson Morrell introduced a bill to create a United States Centennial Commission. The bill, which passed on March 3, 1871, provided that the U.S. government would not be liable for any expenses.

The United States Centennial Commission organized on March 3, 1872 with Joseph R. Hawley of Connecticut as president. The Centennial Commission's commissioners were made up of one representative from each state and territory in the United States. On June 1, 1872 Congress created a Centennial Board of Finance to help raise money. John Welsh, brother of philanthropist Willaim Welsh, who had experience raising funds for The Great Sanitary Fair in 1864, was the named board's president. The Centennial Board of Finance was authorized to sell up to US$10 million in stock via US$10 shares. The board sold US$1,784,320 worth of shares by February 22, 1873. Philadelphia contributed US$1.5 million and Pennsylvania gave US$1 million. On February 11, 1876 Congress appropriated US$1.5 million in a loan. Originally the Centennial Board of Finance thought it was a subsidy, but after the Centennial ended, the government sued for the money back. The United States Supreme Court would later force the commission to repay the government. John Welsh enlisted help from the women of Philadelphia who had helped him previously in The Great Sanitary Fair. A Women's Centennial Executive Committee was eventually formed with Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, a descendant of Benjamin Franklin, as president. In its first few months the group raised US$40,000. When the group learned the planning commission was not doing much to display the work of women, the group raised US$30,000 for a women's exhibition building."Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", page 461]

In 1873 the Centennial Commission named Alfred T. Goshorn as the director general of Exposition. The Fairmount Park Commission set aside convert|450|acre|km2 of West Fairmount Park for the exposition which was dedicated on July 4, 1873 by Secretary of the Navy George M. Robeson. Newspaper publisher, John W. Forney, agreed to head and pay for a Philadelphia commission sent to Europe to invite nations to exhibit at the exposition. Despite fears of a European boycott and high American tariffs making foreign goods not worthwhile, no European country declined the invitation."Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", page 462]

To accommodate people visiting the city for the Exposition, temporary hotels were constructed near the Centennial's grounds. A Centennial Lodging-House Agency made a list of rooms in hotels, boarding houses and private homes and then sold tickets for the available rooms in cities promoting the Centennial or on trains heading for Philadelphia. Also to accommodate crowds, streetcar lines increased service and the Pennsylvania Railroad ran special trains from Philadelphia's Market Street, New York City, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad also ran special trains from the Center City part of Philadelphia. A small hospital was built on the Exposition's grounds by the Centennial's Medical Bureau, but besides a heat wave during the summer no mass deaths or epidemics occurred."Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", page 467 - 468]


There were more than 200 buildings constructed within Exposition's grounds which was surrounded by a fence nearly three miles long."Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", page 464] The Centennial Commission sponsored a design competition for the principal buildings. There were two rounds, winners of the first round had have details such as construction cost and time prepared for the runoff on September 20, 1873. After the four design winners were chosen, it was determined that none of them allowed for enough time for construction and limited finances.

The Centennial Commission turned to engineers Henry Pettit and Joseph M. Wilson for design and construction of the Main Exhibition Building. A temporary structure, the Main Building was the largest building in the world covering twenty-one and a half acres. The building was constructed using prefabricated parts, and took eighteen months to complete. The building was made of a wood and iron frame resting on 672 stone piers. Glass was used between the frames to allow in light. Inside, the central avenue was convert|120|ft|m|abbr=on wide, convert|1832|ft|m|abbr=on long and convert|75|ft|m|abbr=on high. convert|75|ft|m|abbr=on tall towers sat at each of the buildings corners. Exhibits from the United States were placed in the center of the building and foreign exhibits were placed around the center based on the nation's distance from the United States. Exhibits inside the Main Building dealt with mining, metallurgy, manufacturing, education and science. ["Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition", pages 29 - 30] Right to the west of the Main Building was Machinery Hall. Machinery Hall was also designed by Pettit and Wilson and was similarly designed except that the building's frame was just made of wood. The building, which took six months to construct, was the second largest building at the Exposition and was convert|1402|ft|m|abbr=on long and convert|360|ft|m|abbr=on wide. There was a convert|208|ft|m|abbr=on by convert|210|ft|m|abbr=on wing attached on the south side of the building. Exhibits displayed at Machinery Hall revolved around machines and industry. ["Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition", page 67] The third largest structure at the Centennial was Agricultural Hall. Designed by James Windrim, Agricultural Hall was convert|820|ft|m|abbr=on long and convert|540|ft|m|abbr=on wide. Made of wood and glass, the building was designed to look like various barn structures pieced together. The building's exhibits included products and machines in agriculture and other related businesses. ["Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition", pages 85 - 86]

Unlike most of the buildings constructed for the Exposition, Horticultural Hall was meant to be permanent. Horticultural Hall was designed by Hermann J. Schwarzmann. Schwarzmann, an engineer for the Fairmount Park Commission, had never designed a building before. Horticultural Hall had an iron and glass frame on a brick and marble foundation and was convert|383|ft|m|abbr=on long, convert|193|ft|m|abbr=on wide and convert|68|ft|m|abbr=on tall. ["Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition", page 95] The building was styled after Moorish architecture and designed as a tribute to The Crystal Palace from London's Great Exhibition. The building's exhibits specialized in horticulture and after the Exposition it continued to exhibit plants until it was badly damaged by Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and was demolished.

Also designed by Hermann J. Schwarzmann, Memorial Hall is made of brick, glass, iron and granite. Memorial Hall's was designed in beaux-arts style and housed the art exhibits. The Centennial received so many art contributions a separate annex was built to house it all. Another building was built for the display of photography. ["Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition", pages 101 - 103] After the Exposition, Memorial Hall reopened in 1877 as the Pennsylvania Museum of the School of Industrial Art. In 1928 the school moved to another location and became the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The building continued to house art afterwards and was taken over by the Fairmount Park Commission in 1958. ["Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition", page 105] The building was later used as a police station and is now being renovated to house the Please Touch Museum which will open in Memorial Hall on October 18, 2008. [cite web |url=http://www.pleasetouchmuseum.org/memorial_hall_update/ |title=Memorial Hall Update |accessdate=2007-01-17 |last=Resinger |first=Kelly |publisher=Please Touch Museum |quote= ]

The British buildings were extensive and among other things showed to America the evolved bicycle with Tension Spokes and a large front wheel. Two English manufactures displayed their high wheel bikes (called "Ordinary bikes" or slang "penny farthings") at the Exposition: Bayless Thomas and Rudge. It was these displays which caused Col. A Pope to decide to begin making high wheel bikes in the USA. He started the Columbia Bike Company and within a few years was publishing a journal "LAW Bulletin and Good Roads". This was the beginning of the good roads movement by the bicycling faternity which led to the AAA pushing further in 1903.

Twenty-six U.S. states had their own building of which the Ohio House is the only one that still exists. [cite web |url=http://www.fairmountpark.org/BuildingsForAdoptionList.asp |title=Buildings That Need Adoption |accessdate=2007-01-17 |publisher=Fairmount Park |quote= ] Not including the United States, eleven nations also had their own building. The United States government had its own cross shaped building that held exhibits from various government departments. The Women's Pavilion was the first structure at an international exposition devoted to showing off the work of women. The rest of the structures at the Centennial consisted of corporate pavilions, administration buildings, restaurants and other buildings designed for public comfort. ["Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition", page 109]


The formal name of the Exposition was the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures, and products of the Soil and Mine, but the official theme was the celebration of the United States Centennial. At the same time, the Exposition was designed to show the world the United States' industrial and innovative prowess. The Centennial was originally set to begin in April for the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, but construction delays caused the date to be pushed back to May 10. Bells rang all over Philadelphia to signal the Centennial's opening. The opening ceremony was attended by U.S. President Ulysses Grant and his wife and Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro and his wife. The opening ceremony ended in Machinery Hall with Grant and Dom Pedro turning on the Corliss Steam Engine which powered most of the other machines at the Exposition. The official number of first day attendees was 186,272 people with 110,000 entering with free passes.

In the days following the opening ceremony, attendance dropped dramatically, with only 12,720 people visiting the Exposition. The average daily attendance for May was 36,000 and 39,000 for June. A deadly heat wave began in mid-June and continued into July hurting attendance. The average temperature was 81 °F (27.2 °C), and ten times during the heat wave, the temperatures reached 100 °F (37.8 °C). The average daily attendance for July was 35,000, but it rose in August to 42,000 despite the return of high temperatures at the end of the month."Philadelphia: A 300-Year History", page 466]

Cooling temperatures, news reports and word of mouth began increasing attendance in the final three months of the Exposition, with many of the visitors coming from farther distances. In September the average daily attendance rose to 94,000 and to 102,000 in October. The highest attendance date of the entire Exposition was September 28. The day, which saw about a quarter of a million people attend, was Pennsylvania Day. Pennsylvania Day celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 and Exposition events included speeches, receptions and fireworks. The final month of the Exposition, November, had an average daily attendance of 115,000. By the time the Exposition ended on November 10, a total of 10,164,489 had visited the fair.


Technologies introduced at the fair include the Corliss Steam Engine. Pennsylvania Railroad displayed the "John Bull" steam locomotive that was originally built in 1831. [cite journal| title=American Locomotives and Cars| author=Forney, M. N.| pages=p 177| volume=IV| journal=Scribner's Magazine| issue=2| month=August| year=1888| ] Waltham Watch Company displayed the first automatic screw making machinery and won the Gold Medal in the first international watch precision competition. Until the start of 2004, many of the fair's exhibits were in the Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building in Washington, DC, adjacent to the Castle building. During the Exposition the Turkish delegation presented marijuana to the United States for the first time, becoming one of the most visited exhibits of the fairFact|date=May 2008.

Consumer products first displayed to the public include:
* Alexander Graham Bell's telephone
* the Remington Typographic Machine (typewriter)
* Heinz Ketchup
* Wallace-Farmer Electric Dynamo, precursor to (electric light)
* Hires Root Beer

A reconstruction of a "colonial kitchen" replete with spinning wheel and costumed presenters sparked an era of "Colonial Revival" in American architecture and house furnishings. The Swedish Cottage, representing a rural Swedish schoolhouse of traditional style, was re-erected after the Exposition closed, in Central Park, New York. It is now the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre.

The New Jersey official State Pavilion was a reconstruction of the Ford Mansion, which served as General George Washington’s Headquarters during the winter of 1779-80 in Morristown, New Jersey. The reconstruction had a working "colonial kitchen" featuring a polemical narrative of "old-fashioned domesticity." This quaint hearth and home view of the colonial past was juxtaposed against the theme of progress, the overarching theme of the exhibition serving to re-enforce a view of American progress evolving from a small hearty colonial stock and not from a continual influx of multi-ethnic waves of immigration.

The right arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty were showcased at the Exposition. For a fee of 50 cents, visitors could climb the ladder to the balcony, and the money raised this way was used to fund the rest of the statue.

The building housing the Japanese pavilion was, after the Exposition, dismantled and moved to Strafford, Pennsylvania, where it still stands, serving as that community's train station.

ee also

* Centennial Arboretum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania



*cite book |last=Gross |first=Linda P. |coauthors=Theresa R. Snyder |title=Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition |date=2005 |publisher=Arcadia Publishing |id=ISBN 0-7385-3888-4
*cite book |last=Wainwright |first=Nicholas |coauthors=Russell Weigley and Edwin Wolf |title=Philadelphia: A 300-Year History |date=1982 |publisher=W.W. Norton & Company |id=ISBN 0-393-01610-2
*cite book
last = Strahan (ed.)
first = Edward
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 1875
chapter =
title = A Century After, picturesque glimpses of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania
publisher = Allen, Lane & Scott and J. W. Lauderbach
location = Philadelphia
id =

External links

* [http://libwww.library.phila.gov/CenCol/ Centennial Exhibition]
* [http://fax.libs.uga.edu/T825xB1xI5/ "Centennial exposition described and illustrated"] , being a concise and graphic description of this grand enterprise commemorative of the first sic|centennary of American independence. Publisher: Philadelphia, Hubbard bros, 1876.
* [http://columbianexpo.50megs.com A large collection of Stereoviews]
* [http://findingaid.winterthur.org/html/HTML_Finding_Aids/COL0259.htm The Winterthur Library] Overview of an archival collection on the Centennial Exhibition.

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