|Banner Image: detail from postcard of Italian Village, 1933 Chicago World's Fair
Centuries of Progress: American World's Fairs, 1853 to 1982
Open through July 2006
Be sure to visit our special World's Fair Site! (link)
For many people, Worlds Fairs evoke images of crowds, food, entertainment, and fun. For others, fairs were places where new technologies and consumer products were unveiled, and for others still, these expositions exposed them to architecture, art, design, and a range of foreign cultures. Worlds Fairs did all of this and more, and they are well-documented in Hagleys collections. By taking a comprehensive look at these fairs through the photographs, manuscripts, books, artifacts, and souvenirs from the more than 100 fairs represented in the museum and library, we see how these expositions helped to shape our world view and our American experience. Hagley's exhibition, Centuries of Progress: American Worlds Fairs, 1853 to 1982, is open through July 2006.
As marketplaces of ideas, Worlds Fairs and international expositions offered manufacturers opportunities to introduce and exhibit new inventions and technological developments while extending their business networks in the process. As a result, early American fairs were celebrations of machines and machinery as instruments of progress. At these expositions, Americans witnessed the production of goods, including the revolutionary Ford assembly line, and then purchased them. Path-breaking technological inventions such as the telephone, x-rays, the light bulb, infant incubators, television, moving walkways, asphalt, plastic, electric signage, movies, and radio, all debuted at expositions. By the second half of the twentieth century, vendors demonstrated the production of familiar consumer goods with the promise of a better standard of living for all.
Consumer goods either introduced or popularized at Worlds Fairs are now quite familiar to uspopcorn, ice cream, and ice cream sodas made their first appearance at a Worlds Fair. Fairgoers first experienced picture postcards, commemorative coins offered by the U. S. Mint, the Ferris wheel, and several other food products, now part of the fabric of contemporary American life. Corporate exhibitions featured a range of products including the Ford Mustang which was introduced at the 1964-1965 New York Worlds Fair.
The impact of the fairs on design and taste is also seen in the range of architectural styles, from classical to modern to futuristic, which filled the fair grounds. Designers such as Stephen F. Voorhees, Norman Bel Geddes, Raymond Loewy, Henry Dreyfus, and Walter Dorwin Teague played a strong role in shaping the landscape and informing the tastes presented at the fair. Paintings, sculpture, and photography all played important roles. The international community highlighted their cultural offerings with great pride. By the 1964-1965 celebration in New York, fairgoers were exposed to a diversity of works including the Pieta, and pieces by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg. Similarly, fairs exposed musical styles to the public from Wagners orchestration for the Centennial and Dvoraks New World Symphony to Sousa, Joplin, Goodman, Bassie, and Gershwin in subsequent years.
Worlds Fairs had a profound impact on popular culture, one of the most visible and long lasting: the ever popular Midway. The first Midway, at the Worlds Columbian fair of 1893 in Chicago, included the premier of the Ferris wheel. Other entertainment areas of fairs brought amusement rides, boxing matches, and water shows. The success of the Midway prompted a new entertainment industry with the creation of Coney Island and Disneyland. These entertainment businesses in turn influenced exhibit designs at future fairs.
The exhibit will include fun hands-on activities for the entire family. Through an outstanding array of photographs, ephemera, printed material, and objects, visitors to the exhibition will gain an understanding and appreciation for the impact fairsas magnetic tourist experiences and awesome consumer spectacleshad on American culture. So, to paraphrase Judy Garland, Meet me in St. Louis, Louis
meet me at the fair
all of them!
Meet many fellow Worlds Fairs aficionados during a spring and fall lecture series which is being held in conjunction with the exhibit. The series kicks off in the spring on Thursday, May 5, with Ragtime on the Midway featuring Hagleys own Jon Williams, the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Prints and Photographs, giving a piano performance and talk on musical selections from the 1904 Worlds Fair. Other topics in the series will look at the 1933 Chicago Worlds Fair, Leisureama, and hot dogs and the 1939 Worlds Fair.
A symposium on Utopian Visions and World's Fairs will be held at the Soda House on Friday, April 15, 2005, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. For details about this event and other events held in conjunction with this exhibit, see the events page (link).
Titles related to World's Fairs will be the subjects of a monthly book club. The discussions, which will be free and open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month beginning in April. The book club discussions will be led by Hagley staff members and held at Barnes and Noble Booksellers which is located on 4801 Concord Pike in Wilmington, Delaware. Most of the books to be discussed will be available at the Hagley Museum Store and Barnes and Noble. For a list of titles to be discussed, see this page (link).
The exhibit will be open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through July 2006. Admission is free for Hagley members. Exhibit admission for nonmembers is $5 for adults, $2 for children six to fourteen, and free for children five and under.
Exhibit sponsors include Discover Bank, The Delaware Humanities Forum, Haverford Trust Company, Heinz, as well as donations from individuals. The exhibit media sponsors are The News Journal and WJBR.