Century of Progress
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BIE-class: Universal exposition
Category: Historical Expo
Name: A Century of Progress Exposition
Motto: Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Adapts
Area: 172 hectares (430 acres)
Location Country: United States
City: Chicago, Illinois
Venue: Lakefront, Northerly Island
Opening: May 27, 1933
Closure: October 31, 1934
Previous: Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 in Sevilla and 1929 Barcelona International Exposition in Barcelona
Next: Brussels International Exposition (1935) in Brussels
A Century of Progress International Exposition was a World’s Fair registered under the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), which was held in Chicago, as The Chicago World’s Fair, from 1933 to 1934 to celebrate the city’s centennial. The theme of the fair was technological innovation. The fair’s motto was “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Adapts”, giving out a message that science and American life were wedded. Its architectural symbol was the Sky Ride, a transporter bridge perpendicular to the shore on which one could ride from one side of the fair to the other. One description of the fair noted that the world, “then still mired in the malaise of the Great Depression, could glimpse a happier not too distant future, all driven by innovation in science and technology”. Fair visitors saw the latest wonders in rail travel, automobiles, architecture and cigarette smoking robots. The exposition “emphasized technology and progress, a utopia, or perfect world, founded on democracy and manufacturing”.
A Century of Progress was organized as an Illinois nonprofit corporation in January 1928 for the purpose of planning and hosting a World’s Fair in Chicago in 1934. City officials designated three and a half miles of newly reclaimed land along the shore of Lake Michigan between 12th and 39th streets on the Near South Side for the fairgrounds. Held on a 427 acres (1.73 km2) portion of Burnham Park, the $37,500,000 exposition was formally opened on May 27, 1933, by U.S. Postmaster General James Farley at a four hour ceremony at Soldier Field. The fair’s opening night began with a nod to the heavens. Lights were automatically activated when the rays of the star Arcturus were detected. The star was chosen as its light had started its journey at about the time of the previous Chicago world’s fair the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The rays were focused on photoelectric cells in a series of astronomical observatories and then transformed into electrical energy which was transmitted to Chicago.
The fair buildings were multi colored, to create a “Rainbow City” as compared to the “White City” of Chicago’s earlier World’s Columbian Exposition. The buildings generally followed Moderne architecture in contrast to the neoclassical themes used at the 1893 fair. One famous feature of the fair were the performances of fan dancer Sally Rand. Other popular exhibits were the various auto manufacturers, the Midway (filled with nightclubs such as the Old Morocco, where future stars Judy Garland, The Cook Family Singers, and The Andrews Sisters performed), and a recreation of important scenes from Chicago’s history. The fair also contained exhibits that would seem shocking to modern audiences, including offensive portrayals of African-Americans, a “Midget City” complete with “sixty Lilliputians”, and an exhibition of incubators containing real babies. The fair included an exhibit on the history of Chicago. In the planning stages, several African-American groups from the city’s newly growing population campaigned for Jean Baptiste Point du Sable to be honored at the fair. At the time, few Chicagoans had even heard of Point du Sable, and the fair’s organizers presented the 1803 construction of Fort Dearborn as the city’s historical beginning. The campaign was successful, and a replica of Point du Sable’s cabin was presented as part of the “background of the history of Chicago”.
Admiral Byrd’s polar expedition ship the City of New York was visited by President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he came to the fair on October 2, 1933. The City was on show for the full length of the exhibition. One of the highlights of the 1933 World’s Fair was the arrival of the German airship Graf Zeppelin on October 26, 1933. After circling Lake Michigan near the exposition for two hours, Commander Hugo Eckener landed the 776 foot airship at the nearby Curtiss-Wright Airport in Glenview. It remained on the ground for twenty-five minutes (from 1 to 1:25 pm) then took off ahead of an approaching weather front bound for Akron, Ohio. For some Chicagoans, however, the appearance of the Graf Zeppelin over their fair city was not a welcome sight, as the airship had become a prominent reminder of the ascendancy of Adolf Hitler to power earlier that same year. This triggered dissension in the days following its visit, particularly within the city’s large German-American population.
The “dream cars” which American automobile manufacturers exhibited at the fair included Cadillac’s introduction of its V-16 limousine; Nash’s exhibit had a variation on the vertical (i.e., paternoster) parking garage, all the cars were new Nashes; Lincoln presented its rear engined “concept car” precursor to the Lincoln Zephyr, which went on the market in 1936 with a front engine; Pierce-Arrow presented its modernistic Pierce Silver Arrow for which it used the byline “Suddenly it's 1940!” But it was Packard which won the best of show. The passengers, including “Zeph” the burro, that rode the Zephyr on the “Dawn to Dusk Dash” gather for a group photo in front of the train after arriving in Chicago on May 26, 1934. One interesting and enduring exhibit was the 1933 Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition that demonstrated modern home convenience and creative practical new building materials and techniques with twelve model homes sponsored by several corporations affiliated with home decor and construction. Marine artist Hilda Goldblatt Gorenstein (Hilgos) painted twelve murals for the Navy’s exhibit in the Federal Building for the fair. The frieze was composed of twelve murals depicting the influence of sea power on America, beginning with the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 when sea power first reached America and carrying through World War I. The first Major League Baseball All-Star Game was held at Comiskey Park (home of the Chicago White Sox) in conjunction with the fair.
In May 1934, the Union Pacific Railroad exhibited its first streamlined train, the M-10000, and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad its famous Zephyr which, on May 26, made a record breaking dawn to dusk run from Denver, Colorado, to Chicago in 13 hours and 5 minutes, called the “Dawn to Dusk Dash”. To cap its record breaking speed run, the Zephyr arrived dramatically on stage at the fair’s “Wings of a Century” transportation pageant. The two trains launched an era of industrial streamlining. Both trains later went into successful revenue service, the Union Pacific’s as the City of Salina, and the Burlington Zephyr as the first Pioneer Zephyr. The Zephyr is now on exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.
Frank Buck furnished a wild animal exhibit, Frank Buck’s Jungle Camp. Over two million people visited Buck’s reproduction of the camp he and his native assistants lived in while collecting animals in Asia. After the fair closed, Buck moved the camp to a compound he had created at Amityville, New York.