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
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Chicago rose from the ashes of The Great Fire of 1871 to host the 19th century’s greatest fair. See more photos here.
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.
Navigate between the buildings and attractions in what is today Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side. Read more here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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