Field Museum exhibit reveals surprise motivation behind World's Fair

October 25, 2013

Matt Cunningham

The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 put Chicago on the international map, with wonders like a giant Ferris wheel, electric fans and pavilions designed by the world’s first ‘starchitect’ Daniel Burnham.

Curious City: What was it like to be a visitor at the 1893 World's Fair?

That World’s Fair has attained almost mythical proportions in Chicago. Just 22 years after the Great Fire, the White City rose on the South Side. Visitors could experience wonders of the modern world at the end of the 19th century, and countries from across the globe, eager to export to the United States, brought their specialties.

Then the successful fair came to a close. The Columbian Museum of Chicago, as the Field was originally called, grew up as a place to preserve over 50,000 objects from the pavilions and cultural villages.

Christine Niezgoda, the Field’s collections manager in botany, said the Fair was a grand setting for something that would seem familiar today.

“People forget this was also a trade show,” she said.

That’s right, she called the World’s Fair ... a trade show. To hear why, click on the audio above.

The Field Museum’s exhibit, “Opening the Vaults: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair,” which showcases fair artifacts and explores the museum’s connection to that historic time, begins Friday, Oct. 25.

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