World Columbian Exposition


World Columbian Exposition

The World Columbian Exposition (also called World's Columbian Exposition), a World's fair, was held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's discovery of the New World. Chicago had beaten New York City, Washington, D.C and St. Louis, Missouri for the honor of hosting the fair. During the competition to win the fair, Charles A. Dana, editor of the New York Sun, dubbed Chicago "that windy city." The World's Fair Exposition was celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' voyage of America.

Opening ceremonies for the fair were held on October 21, 1892, but the fairgrounds were not actually opened to the public until May 1, 1893. The fair ran until October 30, 1893. In addition to recognizing the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the New World, the fair also served to show the world that Chicago had risen from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire which had destroyed much of the city in 1871.

The exposition was located in Jackson Park and on the Midway Plaisance on 630 acres in the neighborhood known as Hyde Park. The layout of the fairgrounds was created by Frederick Law Olmstead and the architecture of the buildings was under the direction of Daniel Burnham. Most of the buildings were based on classical architecture and the area taken up by the fair was known as "The White City". Of the more than 200 buildings erected for the fair, the only one which still stands is the Palace of Fine Arts. From the time the fair closed until 1920, the building housed the Field Columbian Museum (now the Field Museum of Natural History). In 1931, the building re-opened as the Museum of Science and Industry.

The magnificent buildings at the fair were all built to be temporary. Their facades were made not of stone, but of a mixture of plaster and hemp called "staff." The "White City," however, so impressed everyone who saw it that plans were considered to refinish the exteriors in marble or some other material. Sadly, these plans had to abandoned in July 1894 when fair grounds were destroyed in fire. (the fire occurred at the height of the Pullman Strike, since the strikers set other fires that very week, it is possible the fire was set by disgruntled Pullman employees)

Electricity at the Fair

The International Exposition was held in which for the first time a building was devoted to electrical exhibits. It was a historical moment and a beginning of a revolution as Nikola Tesla and Westinghouse introduced the public to alternating current power by providing alternating current energy to illuminate the Exposition. The general public observed firsthand the qualities and abilities of alternating current power. All the exhibits were from commercial enterprises. Edison, Brush, Western Electric, and Westinghouse had exhibits. General Electric Company (backed by Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan) proposed to power the electric fair with direct current at the cost of one million dollars.

Westinghouse proposed, armed with Tesla's alternating current system, to illuminate the exposition for half that price. Tesla's high-frequency high-voltage lighting produced more efficient light with quantatively less heat. A two-phase induction motor was driven by current from the main generators to power the system. Edison tried to prevent the use of his lightbulbs with Tesla's works. General Electric banned the use of Edison's lamps in Westinghouse's exhibits. Westinghouse proposal was chosen over the inferior direct current system to power the fair.

The Westinghouse Company displayed several polyphase systems. The exhibits included a switchboard, polyphase generators, step-up transformers, transmission line, step-down transformers, commercial size induction motors, commercial size synchronous motors, and rotary direct current converters (one of which was operating a railway motor). The working scaled system allowed the public a view of a system of polyphase power which could transmit long distances, and be utilized, including the supply of direct current. Meters and other auxiliary devices were present also. Tesla displayed his phosphorescent lighting powered without wires by high-frequency fields (or, what is known today as, Neon Lights). Tesla also display the first neon lighttubes at the exposition. Tesla's lighting inventions exposed to high-frequency currents would bring the gases to incandescence. Tesla displayed the first practical phosphorescent lamps (a precursor to fluorescent lamps). His innovations in this type of light emission were not regularly patented.

Also in the exhibits was Tesla's demonstration, most notably the "Egg of Columbus". This device explains the principals of the rotating magnetic field and his induction motor. The Egg of Columbus consisted of a polyphase field coil underneath a plate with a copper egg positioned over the top. When the sequence of the coils were energized, the magnetic field arrangement inductively created a rotation on the egg and made it stand up on end (appearing to resist gravity). On August 25, Elisha Gray introduced Tesla for a delivery of a lecture on mechanical and electrical oscillators. Tesla explained his work for efficiently increasing the work at high frequency of reciprocation. As Electrical Congress members listened, Tesla delineated mechanisms which could produce oscillations of constant periods irrespective of the pressure applied and irrespectivce of frictional losses and loads. He continued to explain the working mean of the production of constant period electric currents (not resorting to spark gaps or breaks) and how to produce these with mechanisms which are reliable.

The Exposition's illumination with electricity using Tesla and Westinghouse's alternate current results in removing doubt of the usefulness of the polyphase alternating current.

Other Notable Attractions

The World Columbian Exposition was the first world's fair with an area for amusements which was separate from the exhibition halls. This area, concentrated on Midway Plaisance, included carnival rides, including the first Ferris Wheel, built by George Ferris. This wheel was 250 feet high and had 36 cars, each of which could accommodate 60 people. One of the cars held a band which played whenever the wheel was in motion. Another popular Midway attraction was the "Street in Cairo," which included the popular exotic dancer known as Little Egypt.

Forty-six nations participated in the fair, which drew nearly 26 million visitors.

Three days before the fair was scheduled to close, Chicago mayor Carter Harrison, Sr was assassinated by a disgruntled office seeker, putting a damper on the fair's closing ceremonies.

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