The Blue Print

September 3, 2011
Cancer 24: A woman and two men on a bit of sunlit land facing south

In the six months it was open, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition attracted 27, 539, 000 visitors � almost half the total number of people living in the United States. Overnight, Chicago became the best known city in the world. By reminding millions of the beauties of the classic forms of architecture, the Exposition started a trend that was to last for a generation. The view includes the Court of Honor, seen here from the top of the Manufacturers Building. [Image & Text sourced from Illinois Periodicals Online — Chicago Resurrection, A review essay by JAMES KROHE JR]

Modern America would not have been the same had the World’s Columbian Exposition not existed. A bold claim, to be sure, but the influence of the Fair’s ideas reached millions upon millions of Americans, reinforcing their beliefs, encouraging pride in their country, suggesting new paradigms which would be more easily accepted in a time of crisis. The huge audience for the Columbian Exposition is the key to its definition as a watershed event in American history, influencing millions through visits, guidebooks, journal accounts, and photographic viewbooks. The reactions of visitors to the Fair’s messages of stability–cultural parity with Europe through appropriation of European forms, and the official emphasis on education rather than entertainment–were mixed. Yet the messages of consumption and technology were either received without comment or with outright enthusiasm.

It is this–the acceptance and even celebration of consumption and technology–which has had the most significant and lasting impact on American society. The dialogue between popular and “high” culture, and education and entertainment, at the World’s Columbian Exposition was a continuation of a running conversation which has not been resolved in postmodern America–they were reflections of their time, rather than influencers. The messages of consumption (as well as the many goods introduced at the Fair), the rise of a business elite to national power, and the valorization of technology as positive progress have had the most significant and lasting effects on American society.

In the great World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, we find the blueprint for modern America.

Text written by Julie K. Rose, sourced from Virginia.edu  

Further Exploration

The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and Victorian America: A Humanities Time Capsule

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