Centuries of Progress: American World’s Fairs, 1853-1982

Jan. 28 – April 5, 2013

What do the telephone, the Ferris Wheel, a 28,000-pound typewriter, and nylon stockings have in common?  They were just a few of the thousands of featured products, curiosities, and inventions that made their debut at one of the 17 international festivals on American soil.  From the practical to the peculiar, the events and displays of World’s Fairs shaped and reflected our American experience and promised a better standard of living for all.

Centuries of Progress: American World’s Fairs, 1853-1982 from Hagley Museum and Library presents a remarkable overview of the fairs, from the Crystal Palace Exposition in New York to the World’s Fair in Knoxville  Tennessee.  Approximately 125 objects, photographs, and ephemera detail more than a century of progress, promotion, and public response.

The history of the fairs is related through thematic categories: Progress as a Way of Life introduces the rationale for the creation of World’s Fairs.  Marketplace of Ideasdemonstrates the immense opportunity manufacturers had to market new inventions, while Consumerism depicts fair-goers as an eager audience for innovative goods, from Juicy Fruit to Wonder Bread and Dr Pepper.  Art, Architecture and Music and Popular Amusements illustrate the vast entertainment options, from colossal buildings and sculptures to carnival rides and exhibitions of “exotic” lands and cultures.  Finally, Remembering the Fair includes souvenirs and commemorative items.  After all, who could go home empty-handed after experiencing the wonders of a World’s Fair?

 

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