A Pictoral Walking Tour of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago

A Pictoral Walking Tour of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago

The World’s Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. The Chicago Columbian Exposition was largely designed by Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted.

The Exposition covered more than 600 acres on Chicago’s south side and featured approximately 200 buildings of classical architecture, canals and lagoons, and people and cultures from around the world. Over 27 million people attended the Exposition during its six-month run from May 1, 1893 until October 30, 1893.

I knew nothing about the Fair until I read The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America.

The Devil in the White City left me wanting pictures however. With so many buildings it was difficult to imagine the scope and layout of the city. Fortunately, the Brooklyn Museum and the Smithsonian have a number of pictures on Flickr.

Using the pictures they’ve posted, I’ve attempted to create a pictoral walking tour of the White City. It was known as The White City because nearly all the buildings were made of a white stucco and because of the use of street lights at night.

The first part of our tour will take us through the Court of Honor.

Note: Most photos are linked to full-size versions on Flickr which are much larger, giving fantastic detail.

Note too: The red dot on the mini-maps indicate where you are standing and the black dot indicates the direction you are looking.

Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 Grand Basin
Our tour starts on the west side of the Court of Honor, standing next to MacMonnies Fountain and looking east and north from the Administration Building. The statue of The Republic stands at the east end of the Grand Basin. Lake Michigan can be seen through the columns of the Peristyle behind The Republic.
Court of Honor from Administration Building Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893
Moving counter-clockwise, looking southeast onto the Court of Honor from Administration Building. On the right, the Agricultural Building, which anchored the southern end of the Court of Honor, comes into view.
Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 Liberal Arts Building
Looking left from the same spot, we see the North Canal (with gondolas on canal) and the Liberal Arts Building.
Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 Administration Building
Continuing clockwise around the Grand Basin, we climb to the top of the Liberal Arts Building. Looking west, we see the Administration Building which we were just standing in front of.

The 55,000 square foot Administration Building was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and served as the headquarters for the Exposition.

Machinery Hall Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893
Staying here, we see the south-westerly view from the top of the Liberal Arts Building. The South Canal sits in the center of the photo. The twin spires front Machinery Hall.
Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 Machinery Hall
Moving to the ground for a moment, we have a full view of Machinery Hall looking southwest from the Liberal Arts Building.

The 435,000 square foot Machinery Building was designed by Robert Swain Peabody and cost $1.2 million. Among other things, the building’s 43 steam engines provided electricity to the Exposition.

Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 Agriculture Building
Standing in front of the Liberal Arts Building, we look south across the Grand Basin at the Agriculture Building.

The 400,000 square foot Agricultural Building was designed by Charles McKim. The building celebrated at least two things that made America great: agriculture and Schlitz beer.

Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893
Back up to the top of the Liberal Arts Building, we look southeast and find the statue of The Republic, the Peristyle and Lake Michigan.
Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 Peristyle
Further east from the Liberal Arts Building we see the Peristyle, the pier and the S.S. Christopher Columbus whale-back ship.
Chicago Exposition Agriculture Building
Looking west from the northeast corner of the Grand Basin. The Liberal Arts Building dominates the photo with the Electricity Building behind.

The 11 acre Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, designed by George B. Post, was the junk drawer of the fair, displaying both manufactured goods and historically significant art items.

Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 Administration Building
Looking west across the Grand Basin at the Administration Building.
Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 Court of Honor from Peristyle
Court of Honor from Peristyle. In between the Administration Building (left) and the statue is the Electricity Building.
Looking west across Court of Honor from Peristyle
Loooking west across the Court of Honor from Peristyle.
Liberal Arts Building
The Republic stands before the Liberal Arts Building.
Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893
Close up of the fountains and sculpture of the ‘Court of Honor’ at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893.
Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893
Looking north from the southeast end of the South Canal. The domed building in the far background is the Illinois State Building.

The Electricity Building, designed by Henry Van Brunt and Frank Maynard Howe, dominates the foreground. The Electricity Building was the belle of the ball. Not so much for its architectural design but rather for its exhibits. The Chicago World’s Fair occurred only fifteen years after Thomas Edison had formed the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City. The first public demonstration of his incandescent light bulb occurred in 1879. Electrical power from Edison’s Pearl Street generating station was made available to 59 customers in lower Manhattan in September 1882.

By 1893, electricity was not yet “so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.” Thus, the Electricity Building’s electric lamps and elevators, electric fans and sewing machines were to be marveled at.

Machinery Hall
Looking north from the southwest end of the South Lagoon. We are introduced again to the towers of Machinery Hall, or the Palace of Mechanic Arts as it was formally known.
Looking northeast from Machinery Hall.
White City Liberal Arts Building
Craning our heads to the left from the same spot, we get a good view of the Liberal Arts Building.
Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 Grand Basin
And we’re back where we started.

We’ll continue our tour next time.



Related Reading:
  • Touring the Chicago World’s Fair: The Court of Honor in Pictures
  • More Pictures From the White City
  • The Original Ferris Wheel in Pictures
  • Chicago’s World’s Fair: The Remains of the Day
  • Chicago’s World’s Fair: One Last Photo
  • 9 Comments

    1. Thanks for the tour. I am reading the Devil in the White City and this really helps to imagine what it must have been like.

      T

    2. I have spent a great deal of time with students, talking about the contribution that world expos made towards architecture etc. But for my blog, I particularly wanted to focus on leisure and entertainment. Your photos are super, thanks; thanks for the link.

      Do you have any images of Midway, the carnival rides and side shows? Do you know if ordinary people were allowed to row in those little gondola thingies, just for exercise and amusement? Were there any physical activities at the Expo that you can think of?

      Hels
      Art and Architecture, mainly

    3. Exactly what I was looking for, thanks

    4. An amazing book! When I went on-line and found the pictures, I could not believe the enormity of everything! Not to mention the amount of time it was all done in. It’s too bad that all but one(I think) of the buildings and the beauty are gone. I’ve suggested the book and the site to friends and family.

    5. Thank you for posting these pictures. I just finished reading “The Devil in the White City” and desperately wanted to see more of the fair. Between your site and the Urban Simulation Team at UCLA’s recreation, I’ve been able to satisfy that want.

    6. I too am reading “The Devil in the White City” and am interested in seeing more pictures of the fair. Your website showed me. Thanks!
      It’s a shame so much of fair isn’t around, and I wonder what happened to all the beautiful statuary.
      A1

    7. Your pages are a fabulous service to those of us who are spatially oriented and were struggling to understand how everything fit together, much less see pictures of the buildings. Thank you so much! You might add one comment to one of your notes above related to the Electricity Building. It was Westinghouse’s implementation of Tesla’s alternating current that lit the White City rather than Edison’s direct current. Maybe you could add a sentence on that. Tesla is one of the greatest not-well-known geniuses who ever lived.

    8. FUNNY!!! I am currently 3/4 of the way through “Devil in the White City” which is what inspired me to look for these photos… Thank you… Now I can really appreciate what I’m reading.

    9. This is so great. I picked up Devil in the White City because I took a sneak peek at the book list for my honors class “the guilded age and progress era” that I am taking in the fall, and this book was one of the required reads. I started to doubt the accuracy, and at the part of the book when Ferris’ wheel starts to take on passengers and they stated about 100 got into one of the cars, I started Digging. I am going to save this page in my favorites in case I need the reference come class time! Thank You!

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