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Century of Progress

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Century of Progress

EXPO Chicago 1933
A 1933 Century of Progress world's fair posters
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)
Visitors 48,469,227
Country United States
City Chicago
Venue Lakefront, Northerly Island
Bidding 1923
Opening May 27, 1933 (1933-05-27)
Closure November 1, 1933 (1933-11-01)
Universal expositions

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 the name of a World's Fair held in Chicago 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 Conforms"; 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.


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.[1] Held on a 427 acres (1.73 km2) portion of Burnham Park the Century of Progress opened on May 27, 1933.[2] 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.[3] The rays were focused on photoelectric cells in a series of astronomical observatories and then transformed into electrical energy which was transmitted to Chicago.[4]


The fair buildings were multi-colored, to create a "Rainbow City" as opposed to the "White City" of the 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",[5] and an exhibition of incubators containing real babies.[6]

Cover carried on the Graf Zeppelin from 1933 Century of Progress Exposition franked with C-18 US Air Mail stamp issued for the airship's visit.

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)[7] 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.[8]

The first Major League Baseball All-Star Game was held at Comiskey Park (home of the Chicago White Sox) in conjunction with the fair.

Frank Buck souvenir badge

In May 1934, the Union Pacific Railroad exhibited its first streamlined train, the M-10000, and the Burlington Route 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. 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.[9]

Panoramic view of the 1933 Century of Progress World's Fair


Planning for the design of the Exposition began over five years prior to Opening Day. According to an official resolution, decisions regarding the site layout and the architectural style of the exposition were relegated to an architectural commission, which was led by Paul Cret and Raymond Hood.[11] Local architects on the committee included Edward Bennett, John Holabird, and Hubert Burnham. Frank Lloyd Wright was specifically left off the commission due to his inability to work well with others, but did go on to produce three conceptual schemes for the fair.[12][13] Members of this committee ended up designing most of the large, thematic exhibition pavilions.[14]

From the beginning, the commission members shared a belief that the buildings should not reinterpret past architectural forms – as had been done at earlier fairs, such as Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition—but should instead reflect new, modern ideas, as well as suggest future architectural developments.[15] Because the fairgrounds was on new man-made land that was owned by the state and not the city, the land was initially free from Chicago's strict building codes, which allowed the architects to explore new materials and building techniques.[16] This allowed the design and construction of a wide array of experimental buildings, that eventually included large general exhibition halls, such as the Hall of Science (Paul Cret) and the U.S. Federal Building (Bennet, Burnham and Holabird); corporate pavilions, including the General Motors Building (Albert Kahn) and the Sears Pavilion (Nimmons, Carr, and Wright); futuristic model houses, most popular was the twelve-sided House of Tomorrow (George Frederick Keck); as well as progressive foreign pavilions,including the Italian Pavilion (Mario de Renzi and Adalberto Libera); and historic and ethnic entertainment venues, such as the Belgian Village (Burnham Brothers with Alfons deRydt) and the Streets of Paris (Andrew Rebori and John W. Root) where fan dancer Sally Rand performed.[17] These buildings were constructed out of five-ply Douglas fir plywood, ribbed-metal siding, and prefabricated, boards, such as Masonite, Sheetrock, Maizewood, as well as other new man-made materials.[18] Structural advances also filled the fairgrounds. These included the earliest catenary roof constructed in the United States, which roofed the dome of the Travel and Transport Building (Bennet, Burnham and Holabird) and the first thin shell concrete roof in the United States, on the small, multi-vaulted Brook Hill Farm Dairy built for the 1934 season of the fair.[19]


Originally, the fair was scheduled only to run until November 12, 1933, but it was so successful that it was opened again to run from May 26 to October 31, 1934.[20] The fair was financed through the sale of memberships, which allowed purchases of a certain number of admissions once the park was open. More than $800,000 was raised in this manner as the country came out of the Great Depression. A $10 million bond was issued on October 28, 1929, the day before the stock market crashed. By the time the fair closed in 1933, half of these notes had been retired, with the entire debt paid by the time the fair closed in 1934. For the first time in American history, an international fair had paid for itself. In its two years, it had attracted 48,769,227 visitors. According to James Truslow Adams's Dictionary of American History, during the 170 days beginning May 27, 1933, there were 22,565,859 paid admissions; during the 163 days beginning May 26, 1934, there were 16,486,377; a total of 39,052,236.


Much of the fair site is now home to Northerly Island park (since the closing of Meigs Field) and McCormick Place. A column from the ruins of a Roman temple in Ostia given to Chicago by the Italian government to honor General Italo Balbo's 1933 trans-Atlantic flight still stands near Soldier Field. The city added a red star to its flag in 1933 to commemorate the Century of Progress Exposition (it was the fourth of the four stars currently on the flag).[21] In conjunction with the fair, Chicago's Italian-American community raised funds and donated the statue of the Genoese navigator and explorer, Christopher Columbus (Grant Park).[22] It was placed at the south end of Grant Park, near the site of the fair, and is located east of S. Columbus Drive and north of E. Roosevelt Road.

The Polish Museum of America possesses the painting of "Pulaski at Savannah" by Stanisław Kaczor-Batowski, which was exhibited at the Century of Progress fair and where it won first place. After the close of the fair, the painting went on display at The Art Institute of Chicago where it was unveiled by Eleanor Roosevelt on July 10, 1934. The painting was on display at the Art Institute until its purchase by the Polish Women's Alliance on the museum's behalf.[23]

The U.S. Post Office Department issued a special fifty-cent Air Mail postage stamp, (C-18) to commemorate the visit of the German airship depicting (l to r) the Federal Building in Chicago, the Graf Zeppelin in flight, and its home hangar in Friedrichshafen, Germany. This stamp is informally known as the Baby Zep to distinguish it from the much more valuable 1930 Zeppelin issues (C13–15). Separate from this issue, for the Fair the Post Office also printed 1 and 3 cent commemorative postage stamps, showing respectively Fort Dearborn and the modernistic Federal Building. These were also printed in separate souvenir sheets as blocks of 25 (catalog listings 728–31). In 1935 the sheets were reprinted (Scott 766-67).

In October 2010, the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. opened an exhibition titled Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s.[24] This exhibition, which was available for view until September 2011, prominently featured the Century of Progress fair in Chicago.

Depictions in popular culture

  • Nelson Algren's 1935 novel Somebody in Boots features the Chicago World's Fair of 1933–34, with the Century of Progress being described as "the brief city sprung out of the prairie and falling again into dust."[25]
  • Jean Shepherd wrote about attending the Century of Progress as a boy in In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash
  • Roy J. Snell, author of books for boys and girls, used Chicago, the building of the Fair site, the Fair itself -including the Sky ride - and then certain portions of the Fair after it closed in several of his books. Publisher, Reilly & Lee. Books now in Public Domain.
  • Episode 2 of the first season of the The Waltons called "The Carnival" has John-Boy reading a newspaper story about the fair.


The major archive for the Century of Progress International Exposition, including the official records from the event and the papers of Lenox Lohr, general manager of the fair, are housed in Special Collections at the University of Illinois, Chicago. A collection of materials including images is held by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Century of Progress Collection includes photographs, guidebooks, brochures, maps, architectural drawings, and souvenir items. Specific collections with material include the Chicago Architects Oral History Project; the Daniel H. Burnham Jr. and Hubert Burnham Papers; Edward H. Bennett Collection; Voorhees, Gmelin, and Walker photographs.

Other collections that contain Century of Progress material include: the Athenaeum, Philadelphia: Paul Philippe Cret Archive; the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York: Drawings and Archives Collection (including the former Taliesin Archives); the Chicago History Museum (formerly Chicago Historical Society): Holabird and Root Papers; Century of Progress Records and Photographs; the Chicago Park District, Chicago; the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Trust (formerly Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Foundation), Oak Park, Illinois: Research Center Archives the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin, Texas: Norman Bel Geddes Archive the Masonite Corporation Archives, West Chicago, Illinois; the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago; the National Archives, Washington, D.C.: Prints and Photographs Division; the University of Chicago, Chicago: University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center, Cererar Collection; the University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago: Department of Special Collections, A Century of Progress International Exposition Papers and the Lenox Lohr Papers; the University of Pennsylvania, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, Philadelphia: Special Collections, Paul Philippe Cret Archive; Architectural Drawings Collection, Paul Philippe Cret Papers and the Lewis Mumford Papers.


See also


  1. ^ Lisa D. Schrenk (2007). Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair. University of Minnesota Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0816648368.
  2. ^ Chicago and Suburbs 1939.  
  3. ^ "Century of Progress World's Fair, 1933–1934". University of Illinois-Chicago. January 2008. Retrieved September 6, 2009. 
  4. ^ Jordan D. Marche II (8 June 2005). Theaters of Time and Space: American Planetaria, 1930-1970. Rutgers University Press. p. 80.  
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Baby Incubators, Omaha Public Library.
  7. ^ Senkus, William M. (2002). "Cinderella Stamps of the Century of Progress Expo in Chicago, Illinois". Retrieved March 6, 2009. 
  8. ^ "University of Illinois at Chicago, archive, "U.S. Navy Exhibits Arrive for Fair; Models to Show Sea's Influence on Nation", Chicago Daily News, by Malcolm McDowell, May 6, 1933.". 
  9. ^ Frank Buck's Jungleland
  10. ^ For a detailed discussion of the architecture of the Century of Progress International Expositions, see Lisa D. Schrenk (2007). Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0816648368.
  11. ^ Chicago World’s Fair Centennial Celebration of 1933 Board of Trustees, Resolution, 21 February 1928, Available in the Century of Progress Archive, University of Illinois, Chicago.
  12. ^ Raymond Hood to Frank Lloyd Wright, Letter, 16 February 1931, Taliesin Archives, Avery Library, Columbia University.
  13. ^ For more on Frank Lloyd Wright and the Century of Progress see Lisa D. Schrenk (2007). Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair. University of Minnesota Press. p. 188-199 ISBN 978-0816648368
  14. ^ Lisa D. Schrenk (2007). Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair. University of Minnesota Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-0816648368.
  15. ^ Lisa D. Schrenk (2007). Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair. University of Minnesota Press. p. 47. ISBN 978-0816648368.
  16. ^ S. L. Tesone to C.W. Farrier and J. Stewart, Memo, 16 October 1933, p. 65, Century of Progress Archive, University of Illinois, Chicago.
  17. ^ Lisa D. Schrenk (2007). Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair. University of Minnesota Press. p. 265. ISBN 978-0816648368.
  18. ^ Lisa D. Schrenk (2007). Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair. University of Minnesota Press. p. 130-131. ISBN 978-0816648368.
  19. ^ Lisa D. Schrenk (2007). Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair. University of Minnesota Press. p.40. ISBN 978-0816648368
  20. ^ Robert W. Rydell (2005). "Century of Progress Exposition". Encyclopedia of Chicago. Retrieved May 10, 2011. 
  21. ^ "Municipal Flag of Chicago". Chicago Public Library. 2009. Retrieved March 4, 2009. 
  22. ^ "Christopher Columbus". Chicago Park District. Retrieved July 1, 2011. 
  23. ^ The Polish Museum of America – History and Collections – Guide, p.31 Argraf, Warsaw, 2003
  24. ^
  25. ^ Blades, John (May 10, 1987). "Nelson Algren`s `Boots` Still Has A Powerful Kick". Chicago Tribune (Tribune Co.). Retrieved September 7, 2011. 

External links

  • 1933/1934 Chicago World's Fair website
  • Chicago World's Fair: A Century of Progress International Exposition – 1933/34 in Postcards
  • Panoramic photograph of Century of Progress (from Library of Congress website)
  • Interactive map of the Century of Progress Fair
  • Website dedicated to the 1933–1934 Century of Progress
  • over ChicagoGraf ZeppelinPhotographs of
  • Century of progress Brownie camera on
  • 1933 Century of Progress Digital Collection from the University of Chicago
  • Burnham, Beaux-Arts, Plan of Chicago, & Fairs
  • 1934 Chicago World's Fair Guide Book multiple PDF document of the full official guide book.
  • Chicago Art Deco Society
  • Florida Pavilion – Chicago World's Fair 1933
  • Century of Progress images from University of Illinois at Chicago digital collections
  • History Detectives . Investigations – Sideshow Babies | PBS
  • "The Miracle of Light at the World's Fair" Popular Mechanics, October 1934, pp. 497–512
  • "Three Little Maids draw a crowd of 10,000 at Chicago's World's Fair""The Chicago Tribune, October 1933"
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