My Latest Obsession — The White City


I have been bewitched by the Chicago World’s Fair ever since reading Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. (They painted nearly every building white, hence the name.)

Did you know that the Pledge of Allegiance (sans mention of God) was written to celebrate the dedication day of the fair because “Francis J. Bellamy thought it would be a fine thing if on that day all of the schoolchildren of America, in unison, offered something to their nation.”

I discovered that the first Ferris Wheel was constructed for the Chicago event as an answer to the Eiffel Tower, which was the hit and lasting legacy of the previous world exposition in Paris. A call was put out to American engineers to “out Eiffel Eiffel,” only nothing was forthcoming until George Ferris conceived of his ride. The first Ferris Wheel “was a complex assemblage of 100,000 parts that ranged in size from small bolts to the giant axle, which at the time was the largest one-piece casting of steel ever made.” The ride was completed after the fair started, but was a huge success. Each car could carry about 60 people and they rode to a height nearly as tall as the highest skyscraper in Chicago at the time.

Who knew that fair administrators turned down Buffalo Bill’s act because they thought it wasn’t a good fit? Mr. Bill (really Col. William Cody) thumbed his nose at them and bought his own parcel of land adjacent to the official fairgrounds and performed his Wild West show and became a very rich man in the process.

Political machinations led to delays, which meant that construction on the 600 acre site did not commence until just sixteen months prior to Dedication Day. How they managed to pull off essentially building an entire city from scratch in less than a year-and-a-half, I have no idea. Keep in mind, there were over 200 classically designed structures, many of them among the largest buildings in the world.

Below you will find photos of the following: 1) recreations of the Pinta, Santa Maria, and Nina that were sailed from Spain to be present at the fair, which was also called the World’s Columbian Exposition in honor of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the good old US of A. 2) One of the Westinghouse alternating current generators that powered the fair. 3) The first ever Ferris Wheel!


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