Centennial Exposition

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"Centennial Exhibition" redirects here. For the 1939–1940 exhibition in Wellington, see New Zealand Centennial Exhibition.
EXPO Philadelphia 1876
Centennial Exhibition, Opening Day.jpg
Opening day ceremonies at the Centennial Exhibition
BIE-class Universal exposition
Category Historical
Name Centennial Exposition
Building Memorial Hall
Invention(s) Typewriter, Sewing machine, Telephone
Visitors 9,910,966
Business 14,420
Country United States
City Philadelphia
Venue Fairmount Park
Coordinates 39°58′51.6″N 75°12′54″W / 39.981000°N 75.21500°W / 39.981000; -75.21500
Bidding December 1866
Awarded January 1870
Opening May 10, 1876 (1876-05-10)
Closure November 10, 1876 (1876-11-10)
Universal expositions
Previous Weltausstellung 1873 Wien in Vienna
Next Exposition Universelle (1878) in Paris

The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the first official World's Fair in the United States, was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from May 10 to November 10, 1876, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. Officially named the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine, it was held in Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River on fairgrounds designed by Herman J. Schwarzmann. Nearly 10 million visitors attended the exhibition and thirty-seven countries participated in it. There were five main buildings in the exhibition. They were the Main Exhibition Building, Memorial Hall, Machinery Hall, Agricultural Hall, and Horticultural Hall.[citation needed]

Planning the great gathering[edit]

The Great Sanitary Fair (1864) was the model for the Centennial Exhibition. It had raised $1,046,859 for medicine and bandages during the American Civil War.

The idea of the Centennial Exposition is credited to John L. Campbell, a professor of mathematics, natural philosophy and astronomy at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana.[1] In December 1866, Campbell suggested to Philadelphia's mayor that the United States Centennial be celebrated with an exposition in Philadelphia. Detractors said the project would not be able to find funding, other nations might not attend, and U.S. exhibitions might compare poorly to foreign exhibits.[2]

The Franklin Institute became an early supporter of the exposition and asked the Philadelphia City Council for use of Fairmount Park. In January 1870, the City Council resolved to hold the Centennial Exposition in the city in 1876. The Philadelphia City Council and the Pennsylvania General Assembly created a committee to study the project and seek support of the U.S. Congress. Congressman William D. Kelley spoke for the city and state and Daniel Johnson Morrell introduced a bill to create a United States Centennial Commission. The bill, which passed on March 3, 1871, provided that the U.S. government would not be liable for any expenses.

Joseph R. Hawley

The United States Centennial Commission organized on March 3, 1872, with Joseph R. Hawley of Connecticut as president. The Centennial Commission's commissioners included one representative from each state and territory in the United States.[1] On June 1, 1872, Congress created a Centennial Board of Finance to help raise money. The board's president was John Welsh, brother of philanthropist William Welsh, who had raised funds for The Great Sanitary Fair in 1864.[2] The board was authorized to sell up to US$10 million in stock via US$10 shares. The board sold US$1,784,320 ($35,245,276 today[3]) worth of shares by February 22, 1873. Philadelphia contributed US$1.5 million and Pennsylvania gave US$1 million. On February 11, 1876, Congress appropriated US$1.5 million in a loan. Originally, the board thought it was a subsidy, but after the Centennial ended, the government sued for the money back, and the United States Supreme Court ultimately forced the commission to repay the government. John Welsh enlisted help from the women of Philadelphia who had helped him in The Great Sanitary Fair. A Women's Centennial Executive Committee was formed with Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, a descendant of Benjamin Franklin, as president. In its first few months, the group raised US$40,000. When the group learned the planning commission was not doing much to display the work of women, the group raised US$30,000 for a women's exhibition building.[4]

The Centennial Tower, a 1,000-foot-tall (300 m) tower conceived in 1874 by engineers Clarke and Reeves for the 1876 Exposition, was featured in the January 24, 1874 edition of Scientific American but never built.

In 1873, the Centennial Commission named Alfred T. Goshorn as the director general of the Exposition. The Fairmount Park Commission set aside 450 acres (1.8 km2) of West Fairmount Park for the exposition, which was dedicated on July 4, 1873,[4] by Secretary of the Navy George M. Robeson. The Commission decided to classify the exhibits into seven departments: agriculture, art, education and science, horticulture, machinery, manufactures, and mining and metallurgy. Newspaper publisher John W. Forney agreed to head and pay for a Philadelphia commission sent to Europe to invite nations to exhibit at the exposition. Despite fears of a European boycott and high American tariffs making foreign goods not worthwhile, no European country declined the invitation.[5]

To accommodate out-of-town visitors, temporary hotels were constructed near the Centennial's grounds. A Centennial Lodging-House Agency made a list of rooms in hotels, boarding houses and private homes and then sold tickets for the available rooms in cities promoting the Centennial or on trains heading for Philadelphia. Philadelphia streetcars increased service and the Pennsylvania Railroad ran special trains from Philadelphia's Market Street, New York City, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad ran special trains from the Center City part of Philadelphia. A small hospital was built on the Exposition's grounds by the Centennial's Medical Bureau, but despite a heat wave during the summer, no mass deaths or epidemics occurred.[6]

The Centennial National Bank was chartered on January 19, 1876, to be the "financial agent of the board at the Centennial Exhibition, receiving and accounting for daily receipts, changing foreign moneys into current funds, etc.," according to an article three days later in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Its main branch, designed by Frank Furness, was opened that April on the southeast corner of Market Street and 32nd Street. A branch office operated during the Centennial on the fairgrounds.[7]


Map of the Exhibition complex.

More than 200 buildings were constructed within the Exposition's grounds, which were surrounded by a fence nearly three miles long.[8] The Centennial Commission sponsored a design competition for the principal buildings, conducted in two rounds; winners of the first round had to have details such as construction cost and time prepared for the runoff on September 20, 1873. After the ten design winners were chosen, it was determined that none of them allowed enough time for construction and limited finances.[citation needed]

Main Exhibition Building, Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia (1875–76, disassembled and sold 1881). In terms of total area enclosed, 21½ acres, it was the largest building in the world.

The Centennial Commission turned to third-place winner's architect Henry Pettit and engineer Joseph M. Wilson for design and construction of the Main Exhibition Building. A temporary structure, the Main Building was the largest building in the world by area, enclosing 21.5 acres (8.7 ha).[5] It was constructed using prefabricated parts, with a wood and iron frame resting on 672 stone piers, and took eighteen months to complete. Glass was used between the frames to let in light. Inside, the central avenue was 120 ft (37 m) wide, 1,832 ft (558 m) long, and 75 ft (23 m) high. A 75-foot-tall (23 m) tower stood at each of the building's corners. Exhibits from the United States were placed in the center of the building, and foreign exhibits were arranged around the center, based on the nation's distance from the United States. Exhibits inside the Main Building dealt with mining, metallurgy, manufacturing, education and science.[9]

Horticultural Hall, Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia (1875–76, demolished 1954). Stereoscopic view from Robert N. Dennis Collection, New York Public Library.

To the west of the Main Building was Machinery Hall. Machinery Hall was also designed by Pettit and Wilson and was similarly designed except that the building's frame was just made of wood. The building, which took six months to construct, was the second largest building at the Exposition and was 1,402 ft (427 m) long and 360 ft (110 m) wide. There was a 208 ft (63 m) by 210 ft (64 m) wing attached on the south side of the building. Exhibits displayed at Machinery Hall revolved around machines and industry.[10]

The third largest structure at the Centennial was Agricultural Hall. Designed by James Windrim, Agricultural Hall was 820 ft (250 m) long and 540 ft (160 m) wide. Made of wood and glass, the building was designed to look like various barn structures pieced together. The building's exhibits included products and machines in agriculture and other related businesses.[11]

Memorial Hall

Unlike most of the buildings constructed for the Exposition, Horticultural Hall was meant to be permanent. Horticultural Hall was designed by Herman J. Schwarzmann, an engineer for the Fairmount Park Commission, who had never designed a building before. Horticultural Hall had an iron and glass frame on a brick and marble foundation and was 383 ft (117 m) long, 193 ft (59 m) wide and 68 ft (21 m) tall.[12] The building was styled after Moorish architecture and designed as a tribute to The Crystal Palace from London's Great Exhibition. The building's exhibits specialized in horticulture and after the Exposition it continued to exhibit plants until it was badly damaged by Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and was demolished.[8]

Also designed by Herman J. Schwarzmann, the Art Gallery building (now known as Memorial Hall) is made of brick, glass, iron and granite. Memorial Hall, the only exhibit building to survive on the Centennial site, was designed in the beaux-arts style and housed the art exhibits. The Centennial received so many art contributions that a separate annex was built to house them all. Another building was built for the display of photography.[13]

The Ohio House is one of only four buildings remaining from the exposition, including Memorial Hall and the Centennial comfort stations.

After the Exposition, Memorial Hall reopened in 1877 as the Pennsylvania Museum of Art and included the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art. In 1928 the museum moved to Fairmount at the head of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and in 1938 was renamed the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Memorial Hall continued to house the school, and afterward was taken over by the Fairmount Park Commission in 1958.[14] The museum school is now the University of the Arts. The building was later used as a police station and has now been renovated to house the Please Touch Museum.[5][15]

The British buildings were extensive and among other things showed to America the evolved bicycle with Tension Spokes and a large front wheel. Two English manufacturers displayed their high wheel bikes (called "Ordinary bikes" or slang "penny farthings") at the Exposition: Bayless Thomas and Rudge. It was these displays that caused Col. A. Pope to decide to begin making high wheel bikes in the USA. He started the Columbia Bike Company and within a few years was publishing a journal "LAW Bulletin and Good Roads". This was the beginning of the Good Roads Movement.[citation needed]

Eleven nations beside the U.S. had their own exhibition buildings. So did 26 of the 37 U.S. states. (Ohio House alone survives.)[16] The United States government had a cross-shaped building that held exhibits from various government departments. The Women's Pavilion was the first structure at an international exposition devoted to showing off the work of women. The exhibits in this building were created and operated by women. Domestic labor saving devices invented by women were also displayed. The items that were exhibited included a dishwasher, a reliance stove, a stocking and glove darner, etc. The goals of the exhibit was to promote labor saving household gadgets that would provide women relief from household work so that they can focus on other leisurely activities of interest. The rest of the structures at the Centennial were corporate exhibitions, administration buildings, restaurants, and other buildings designed for public comfort.[17]


Interior of Horticultural Hall. (1876)

The formal name of the Exposition was the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures, and products of the Soil and Mine, but the official theme was the celebration of the United States Centennial. This was reinforced by promotional tie-ins, such as the publication of Kate Harrington's Centennial, and Other Poems, which commemorated the Exposition and the centennial. At the same time, the Exposition was designed to show the world the United States' industrial and innovative prowess.[1] The Centennial was originally set to begin in April for the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, but construction delays caused the date to be pushed ahead to May 10. Bells rang all over Philadelphia to signal the Centennial's opening. The opening ceremony was attended by U.S. President Ulysses Grant and his wife and Emperor Pedro II of Brazil and his wife. The opening ceremony ended in Machinery Hall with Grant and Pedro II turning on the Corliss Steam Engine which powered most of the other machines at the Exposition. The official number of first day attendees was 186,272 people with 110,000 entering with free passes.

In the days following the opening ceremony, attendance dropped dramatically, with only 12,720 people visiting the Exposition. The average daily attendance for May was 36,000 and 39,000 for June. A deadly heat wave began in mid-June and continued into July hurting attendance. The average temperature was 81 °F (27.2 °C), and ten times during the heat wave, the temperatures reached 100 °F (37.8 °C). The average daily attendance for July was 35,000, but it rose in August to 42,000 despite the return of high temperatures at the end of the month.[18]

Cooling temperatures, news reports and word of mouth began increasing attendance in the final three months of the Exposition, with many of the visitors coming from farther distances. In September the average daily attendance rose to 94,000 and to 102,000 in October. The highest attendance date of the entire Exposition was September 28. The day, which saw about a quarter of a million people attend, was Pennsylvania Day. Pennsylvania Day celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 and Exposition events included speeches, receptions and fireworks. The final month of the Exposition, November, had an average daily attendance of 115,000. By the time the Exposition ended on November 10, a total of 10,164,489 had visited the fair.[6] Among the attendees who were duly impressed by the exposition were Princeton University sophomore Woodrow Wilson and his minister father, Dr. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, visiting from North Carolina.[19]

Although not financially successful for investors, the Centennial Exposition impressed foreigners in that the country grew industrially and commercially. The number of exports increased, the number of imports decreased, and the balance grew in favor of America.


Italian Dept. Memorial Hall Annex
Interior, Main Exhibition Building, looking west from grandstand
Krupp exhibit

Technologies introduced at the fair include the Corliss Steam Engine. Pennsylvania Railroad displayed the John Bull steam locomotive that was originally built in 1831.[20] Waltham Watch Company displayed the first automatic screw making machinery and won the Gold Medal in the first international watch precision competition. Until the start of 2004, many of the fair's exhibits were in the Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building in Washington, DC, adjacent to the Castle building.

Consumer products first displayed to the public include:

A reconstruction of a "colonial kitchen" replete with spinning wheel and costumed presenters sparked an era of "Colonial Revival" in American architecture and house furnishings. The Swedish Cottage, representing a rural Swedish schoolhouse of traditional style, was re-erected after the Exposition closed, in Central Park, New York. It is now the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre.

The New Jersey official State Pavilion was a reconstruction of the Ford Mansion, which served as General George Washington’s Headquarters during the winter of 1779-80 in Morristown, New Jersey. The reconstruction had a working "colonial kitchen" featuring a polemical narrative of "old-fashioned domesticity." This quaint hearth and home view of the colonial past was juxtaposed against the theme of progress, the overarching theme of the exhibition serving to reinforce a view of American progress evolving from a small hearty colonial stock and not from a continual influx of multi-ethnic waves of immigration.

Right Arm and Torch of Statue of Liberty, 1876 Centennial Exposition.

The right arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty were showcased at the Exposition. For a fee of 50 cents, visitors could climb the ladder to the balcony, and the money raised this way was used to fund the pedestal for the statue.

Also displayed was the exquisite Gothic-style high altar that Edward Sorin (founder of University of Notre Dame) commissioned from the studios of Froc-Robert in Paris. After the exhibit, the altar was installed at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Notre Dame's campus where it remains to this day.

The building where visitors picked up official Exposition catalogues was, after the Exposition, dismantled and moved to Wayne, Pennsylvania and later Strafford, Pennsylvania, where it still stands, serving as that community's train station.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Gross, Linda P.; Theresa R. Snyder (2005). Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition. Arcadia Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 0-7385-3888-4. 
  2. ^ a b Wainwright, Nicholas; Weigley, Russell; Wolf, Edwin (1982). Philadelphia: A 300-Year History. W.W. Norton & Company. p. 460. ISBN 0-393-01610-2. 
  3. ^ Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved November 10, 2015.
  4. ^ a b Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, p. 461
  5. ^ a b c Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, p. 462
  6. ^ a b Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, pp. 467 - 468
  7. ^ Centennial National Bank
  8. ^ a b Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, p. 464
  9. ^ Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition, pp. 29–30
  10. ^ Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition, p. 67
  11. ^ Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition, pp. 85–86
  12. ^ Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition, p. 95
  13. ^ Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition, pp. 101–103.
  14. ^ Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition, p. 105
  15. ^ Resinger, Kelly. "Memorial Hall Update". Please Touch Museum. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 
  16. ^ "Ohio House". Philadelphia Parks & Recreation: Fairmount Park. Retrieved 2012-01-19. 
  17. ^ Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition, p. 109.
  18. ^ Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, p. 466
  19. ^ Berg, A. Scott (2013). Wilson. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-399-15921-3. 
  20. ^ Forney, M. N. (August 1888). "American Locomotives and Cars". Scribner's Magazine IV (2): 177. 


  • Gross, Linda P.; Theresa R. Snyder (2005). Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-3888-4. 
  • Harrington, Kate (1876). Centennial and Other Poems. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-0-548-43372-0. 
  • J. S. Ingram (1876), The Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia: Hubbard Bros., OCLC 1186046 
  • Wainwright, Nicholas; Russell Weigley; Edwin Wolf (1982). Philadelphia: A 300-Year History. W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-01610-2. 
  • Strahan (ed.), Edward (1875). A Century After, picturesque glimpses of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Allen, Lane & Scott and J. W. Lauderbach. 

External links[edit]