Proceed to Appearance of Order
Proceed to Appearance of Order

THE CENTURY that the 1933 Exposition celebrated was, first and foremost, Chicago's. Founded as a rural fort in 1833, Chicago enjoyed rapid growth in its first hundred years. In the early 20's, beginning in 1923, several Chicago citizens began pushing for a centennial celebration. Myron E. Adams was the strongest of the early proponents. On August 17th, Mayor William E. Dever created an exploratory committee to begin researching the possibility.

But when the entire committee resigned, the plans for an exposition faded away until 1927, when Chicago's treasurer Charles Peterson raised the issue again. At a meeting held on December 13, 1927, a decision was made to form a corporation to prepare for the Fair. This corporation consisted of:

Fort Dearborn

Rufus C. Dawes, President
Charles S. Peterson, Vice-President

D. H. Burnham, Secretary
George Woodruff, Treasurer
Arthur Andersen, Comptroller

The charter purpose of the corporation, which officially began on January 5, 1928, was: "The holding of a World's Fair in Chicago in the year 1933," and the charter name was "Chicago Second World's Fair Centennial Celebration." This name changed on July 9, 1929, to "A Century of Progress."

With the name change, the fair itself shifted from being a purely local interest, to a global one. Reflections on such a title simply could not be confined to the city of Chicago. Not when much of the progress was embodied by the locomotives that delivered machine-age technologies to and from New York, Washington D. C., San Francisco, St. Louis, and the great host on North American localities. The century of progress was one in which regional distinctions had begun to lose significance and stability.

Poster: Skyride

One of the great successes of the fair was of a financial nature. The fair took place at no cost to Chicago taxpayers. "In financing-as in creating, as in color, as in architecture-A Century of Progress has planned boldly, executed audaciously and looked always into the future," (Official Guide Book). And well they should, for in 1928, when the corporation was formed, the pending future included economic collapse and financial depression.

Though they did not pay with their taxes, one hundred thousand citizens did voluntarily contribute $5.00 each to be a part of the World's Fair Legion. However, this money was set aside from the start and used only to pay the entrance fees of those same members. The rest of the money was contributed by prominent and wealthy philanthropists-to the tune of $12,000,000.

THE MONEY RAISED, and the plans for the fair laid out by the country's best architects, the managers knew they needed an exciting symbol of progress to open t he fair. The answer came from the astronomers, who discovered that light from the star Arcturus reaches the earth after forty years of travel through space. The light that shined from that star over the White City Exposition would arrive just in time to power the fair. Using principles of the photoelectric cell, scientists captured the light from the star used it flip the switch that set skies ablaze over Chicago on June 1st, 1933.

House of Tomorrow

In the months that would ensue, the Fair acquired a good bit of lore, including the following story, which I recount from Suzanne Hilton's Here Today and Gone Tomorrow:

"On July 4, the fair advertised that Uncle Sam would make a parachute jump from an airplane. After an extra-spectacular burst of rockets and with the band playing "The Star-spangled Banner," Uncle Sam tumbled out of the plane. The searchlights followed his drop, waiting for the chute to open. When he plummeted straight into the water, the crowd murmured, "A dummy, of course."

But Little Joe Wilson was not a dummy. His body was found the next day. To the horror of the man who had hired what he thought was a parachutist, Joe Wilson turned out to have been only an unemployed actor who had never jumped before in his life." (Hilton 133)

Hall of Science

When time came for closing day on October 31st 1933, the crowds were still heavy and demand for the Fair was high. The Fair was extended an extra twelve days, during which time the managers decided to continue the Fair another year. So it was not until October 31st, 1934 that the gates finally closed. Only the Adler Planetarium, the Chinese Lama Temple, Fort Dearborn, and a few bridges were left behind. Those, and the multitude of images, messages and trinkets that visitors had carried home.