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Travel back in time and tour the Century of Progress Exposition, also known as the Chicago World's Fair. The tour is based on contemporary publications. This page and the page on the 1933 Fair are composed of excerpts from the OFFICIAL GUIDE BOOK OF THE FAIR 1933.
Most of the illustrations on this site are postcards from the exposition. Many postcards were issued for the Century of Progress, both as part of large series of views and also by individual exhibitiors. The first video at the bottom of this page shows a selection of postcard views printed by Curt Teich in 1933 and 1934. The second video shows 100 different postcards from various publishers and exhibitors.
A Century of Progress was conceived and created to meet your tastes, however varied they may be. On the one hand, science beckons to serious interest, and, on the other, fun and carnival crook inviting fingers. From May 27 to November 1, 1933, the interest of a considerable part of the civilized world is focused upon 424 acres of land that lie along the shore of Lake Michigan, edging Chicago. A little while ago this site was placid lake. Now, shimmering beside the water, a dream city is risen. It lights the sky with splendor, yet soon will disappear and be merely memory.
Theme of Fair is Science
As two partners might clasp hands, Chicago's growth and the growth of science and industry have been united during this most amazing century. Chicago's corporate birth as a village, and the dawn of an unprecedented era of discovery, invention, and development of things to effect the comfort, convenience, and welfare of mankind, are strikingly associated. Chicago, therefore, asked the world to join her in celebrating a century of the growth of science, and the dependence of industry on scientific research.
Exhibits of Action and Life
Other great expositions have shown, most often in settings of splendor, the achievements of man as exemplified in the finished products of general use. But when the plans were in the making for the exposition of 1933, the thought came that Chicago's Centennial celebration should be used to help the American people to understand themselves, and to make clear to the coming generation the forces which have built this nation. The result is that A Century of Progress is not merely an exhibit of the products of industry. Exhibitors willingly have subordinated their showing of finished products to a dynamic presentation of actual processes. They are telling a story of the ways that they utilize the discoveries of the basic sciences.
A Brief History of A Century of Progress
On the fifth day of January 1928, A Century of Progress organized as an Illinois corporation, not for pecuniary profit, having as its charter purpose, "the holding of a World's Fair in Chicago in the year 1933." The international character of the Exposition is indicated by the fact that a joint resolution of Congress was approved authorizing the President to invite the nations of the world to participate. An enabling act of the Illinois legislature permitted the Expositon to be held on new-made state park land lying along Lake Michigan, opposite the heart of the city.
Without Cost to the Taxpayer
Here in the making, through years of financial crisis, was several million dollar public enterprise going forward steadily along lines not experienced in the history of our national expositions. A Century of Progress was completed without one cent of taxation being imposed upon an already heavily burdened citizenry. Other world expositions have greatly depended upon subsidies.
Early needs were met from the fees of founder and sustaining members of the corporation. The citizens of Chicago formed the World's Fair Legion. More than a hundred thousand paid the $5.00 membership fee. The basis of financing was an issue of gold notes of ten million dollars. No contract was let unless there were means with which to pay for it.
Color, Style, and Construction
Bold splashes of color seem almost articulate with the spirit of carnival, a flaming expression of fun and frivolity which is of the very essence of a Fair. And it is interesting to note the percentages of colors used. Approximately twenty per cent of all the painted surfaces is in white, twenty per cent in blue, twenty per cent in oranges, fifteen per cent in black, and the remaining twenty-five per cent is divided among the yellows, red, greys, and green. The result sought was a correlation of many buildings that are different in character, shape and mass, and which are arranged on a very informal plan.
Consider the architecture of the buildings. In most of them there are no windows. These structures are for the most part unbroken planes and surfaces of asbestos and gypsum board and plywood and other such materials on light steel frames, rather than a parade of sculptured ornamentation. "It would be incongruous to house exhibits showing man's progress in the past century in a Greek temple of the age of Pericles, or a Roman villa of the time of Hadrian," said members of the architectural commission.
A Century of Progress considered two things in planning the types of building construction. First, here was a city built for 150 days of life, not for the 30 years that is the anticipated life of a modern building. Second, in construction as well as in architecture, it was intended that here should be a huge experimental laboratory, in which home builders and manufacturers can study, and from which they might borrow for their buildings of the future.
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View a large photographic panorama of century of progress from the Library of Congress collection.