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HomeWorldWorld’s Columbian Exposition of 1893

World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893

Chicagoans didn’t have to travel far to find adventure 130 years ago this month — the world came to us. The party was so grand, we hosted it again 40 years later.

The first World’s Fair here, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, was a miracle considering just 22 years earlier the city was in shambles following the Great Chicago Fire.

Yet the Century of Progress International Exposition of 1933-1934 may have been harder to pull off due to the Great Depression.

Though there are hints of both events still present around the city, Chicago’s iconic flag design forever cements their importance — two of its four red stars are dedicated to the fairs (the fire of 1871 and Fort Dearborn represent the other two stars).

Before we head into a long, reflective weekend, here’s a look back at when Chicago became the destination for fun, new technology, culture, a little sleaze and even a now-famous serial killer.

Become a Tribune subscriber: it’s just $3 for a 1-year digital subscription. Follow us on Instagram: @vintagetribune. And, catch me Monday mornings on WLS-AM’s “The Steve Cochran Show” for a look at this week in Chicago history.

Thanks for reading!

— Kori Rumore, visual reporter

Chicago history | More newsletters | Puzzles & Games | Today’s eNewspaper edition

Chicago rose from the ashes of The Great Fire of 1871 to host the 19th century’s greatest fair. See more photos here.

With fair buildings as the background, officials for the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 pose for a group portrait. The architect Daniel Burnham stands third from left.

To many, New York was the obvious choice to host the World’s Fair, but Chicago — always the underdog — possessed something in this competition that New York did not: grit and determination. Read more here.

The Agricultural Building of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

Navigate between the buildings and attractions in what is today Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side. Read more here.

The H.H. Holmes "murder castle" in March 1937. The building at 601-603 West 63rd Street was sold in 1938 and was razed to make way for an Englewood post office. The main entrance is at 603 E. 63rd Street and housed a sign company in 1937 where Holmes had his drug store.

On the 130th year since Daniel Burnham’s sweeping transformation of Chicago’s southern lakefront into the classical alabaster-columned “White City,” the tales of Holmes’ dealings here, including his so-called “Murder Castle” in the Englewood neighborhood, remain largely sensational tabloid fabrications. Read more here.

The cold storage plant at the Columbian Exposition World's Fair, which held refrigerated food for vendors, caught fire in July 1893, killing 16 firefighters who were trapped by a collapsing tower. Editors note: this historic print has some hand painting on it.

Firefighters ascended a tower to get closer to the smokestack and extinguish the fire. As they fought the blaze, however, another fire broke out 70 feet below them, forming what the Tribune called “a pit of fire.” Read more here.

The Sky Ride soars over the lagoon between Northerly Island and the lakefront for the Century of Progress World's Fair in 1933.

Vintage Chicago Tribune


The Vintage Tribune newsletter is a deep dive into the Chicago Tribune’s archives featuring photos and stories about the people, places and events that shape the city’s past, present and future.

Technological innovation was the theme of the second World’s Fair held in Chicago from 1933 to 1934. The title also reflected the city’s centennial and its spectacular growth from a frontier settlement to an industrial metropolis. See more photos here.

Mrs. Edward J. Kelly, wife of the mayor, from left, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Mrs. Henry W. Hardy, president of Federated Women's organizations; Mrs. Rufus C. Dawes, and Mrs. Carter Harrison, as distinguished guests are given a driving tour of the fair grounds on Women’s Day at the Century of Progress World’s Fair in 1933.

In 1929, a group of socially prominent women pledged to keep the Chicago World’s Fair scheduled for 1933 from being an embarrassing dud. No one asked them to assume that burden. To the contrary, the men who planned it snubbed them. Read more here.

At Chicago's second World's Fair, A Century of Progress International Exposition, the most popular attraction was fan dancer Sally Rand. Rand was perceived to be naked while dancing with ostrich feathers covering her body.

The fair’s management reasoned that, if regally clad young women were an attraction, those without clothes would be an even bigger draw. Read more here.

Sunday crowds walk past the Living Babies in Incubators exhibit as well as an area featuring doughnuts and Maxwell House Coffee on Aug. 26, 1934. The baby exhibit was the brainchild of Dr. Martin A. Couney, a pioneer in neonatology.

Of all the amazements available to visitors to Chicago’s Century of Progress world’s fair that took place along our lakefront in 1933 and 1934 — Sally Rand and her is-she-naked? fan dancing legendarily among them — none was more mind-boggling and successful than what was inside one of the buildings on the midway with a sign, “so big you’d have to be dead to miss it,” touting “Living Babies in Incubators.” Read more here.

The 'Century Homes House of Tomorrow,' by architect George Fred Keck, was featured at the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago 1933. The home consists of several stacked 'drums,' with glass-enclosed living quarters above and a ground floor airplane hanger below.

An architectural wonder of Chicago’s 1933-34 World’s Fair may be on its way to a brighter future — if, that is, somebody is willing to spend nearly $3 million to restore it but not own it. Read more here.

Join our Chicagoland history Facebook group and follow us on Instagram for more from Chicago’s past.

Have an idea for Vintage Chicago Tribune? Share it with Ron Grossman and Marianne Mather at rgrossman@chicagotribune.com and mmather@chicagotribune.com.



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