Century of Progress

From Academic Kids

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A 1933 Century of Progress world's fair poster

The Century of Progress was a world's fair held in Chicago, Illinois from 1933-1934 to celebrate Chicago's centennial. The theme of the fair was technological innovation. Its motto was "Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms" and its architectural symbol was a sort of suspension bridge parallel to the shore on which one could ride from one end of the fair to the other.

A Century of Progress was organized as an Illinois not-for-profit corporation in January, 1928 for the purpose of planning and hosting a World's Fair in Chicago in 1933. The site selected was the land and water areas under the jurisdiction of South Park commissioners lying along and adjacent to the shore of Lake Michigan, between 12th and 39th streets.

On a 427 acre (1.7 km²) plot of land on the shores of Lake Michigan, much of which was landfill, the Century of Progress opened on May 27, 1933. The fair was opened when the lights were turned on with energy from the rays of the star Arcturus. The star was chosen as its light had started its journey at about the time of the previous Chicago world's fair -- the World_Columbian_Exposition -- in 1893. The rays were focused on photo-electric cells in a series of astronomical observatories and then transformed into electrical energy which was transmitted to Chicago.

Originally, the fair was scheduled only to run until November 12, but it was so successful that it was opened again to run from May 26 to October 31 the following year. The fair was financed through sales of memberships, which allowed purchases of a certain number of admissions once the park was open. This was done so the fair would not have to be subsidized by the government. More than $800,000 was raised in this manner as the country came out of the Great Depression. A $10 million bond was issued on October 28, 1929, the day before the stock market crashed. By the time the fair closed in 1933, half of these notes had been retired, with all retired by the time the fair closed in 1934. In its two years, it had attracted 48,769,227 visitors. For the first time in American history, an international fair had paid for itself.

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Artistically enhanced photograph of the Century of Progress world's fair, with the Graf Zeppelin in the skies overhead



The fair buildings were multi-colored, to create a "Rainbow City" as opposed to the "White City" of the World Columbian Exposition. The buildings generally had a linear Art Deco design to them in contrast to the Grecian aspect of the earlier fair.

One of the more famous aspects of the fair were the performances of fan dancer Sally Rand. Other popular exhibits were the various auto manufacturers, the Midway, and a recreation of important scenes from Chicago's history. The fair also contained exhibits that would seem shocking to contemporary audiences, including offensive portrayals of African-Americans, a "Midget Village" complete with "sixty Lilliputians", and an exhibition of incubators containing real babies.

The "dream cars" which American automobile manufacturers exhibited at the fair included Cadillac's introduction of its V-16 limousine; Nash's exhibit had a variation on the vertical (i.e., paternoster) parking garage - all the cars were new Nashes; Lincoln presented its rear-engined "concept car" precursor to the Lincoln Zephyr, which went on the market in 1936 with a front engine; Pierce-Arrow presented its modernistic Silver Arrow for which it used the byline "Suddenly it's 1940!" But it was Packard which won the best of show.

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1933 Century of Progress U.S. Air Mail stamp

One of the highlights of the 1933 World's Fair was the arrival of the German airship Graf Zeppelin on October 26, 1933. After circling Lake Michigan near the exposition for two hours, Commander Hugo Eckener landed the 776-foot airship at the nearby Curtis-Wright Airport in Glenview. It remained on the ground for twenty-five minutes (from 1 to 1:25 p.m.) [1] (http://alphabetilately.com/CoP.html) then took off ahead of an approaching weather front bound for Akron, Ohio. For some Chicagoans, however, the appearance of the Graf Zeppelin over their fair city was not a welcome sight, as the airship had become a prominent reminder of the ascendancy of Adolf Hitler to power earlier that same year. This triggered dissension in the days following its visit, particularly within the city's large German-American population. [2] (http://www.stanford.edu/group/shl/Bucky/dymaxion/NYT_Oct_27_1933.jpg)

Although the site of the fair is now home to the closed Meigs Field and McCormick Place, a column from the ruins of a Roman temple in Ostia given to Chicago by the Italian government to honor General Italo Balbo's 1933 trans-Atlantic flight still stands, although now by itself, not too far from Soldier Field.

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