1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair, Chicago, and Phyllis Stanley | Story
World’s Fairs have existed since 1791 starting in Prague, Bohemia, for the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia. In 1798, there was one in Paris, France, for the showcasing of French-made products. Paris has hosted the largest number of world expositions sanctioned by the Bureau des Expositions Internationales. The city hosted other fairs in 1855, 1867, 1878, 1889, 1900, 1931 and 1937.
One of the most memorable European exhibitions was held at the Crystal Palace in London, England in 1851. The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations was called “the First World’s Exhibition”. The fair was also called the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace Exhibition for the temporary structure where it was held. It was an international exhibition held in Hyde Park in London from May 1 to October 1. 15, 1851. The fair was the first in a series of world’s fairs as exhibitions of culture and industry became popular in the 19th century. For a nominal admission price, visitors could discover places they could never visit in person. They could experience the culture of distant places. The Great Exhibition was organized by Henry Cole and Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.
Many personalities of the time visited the London Fair such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Michael Faraday, Samuel Colt, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, Alfred Tennyson and William Makepeace Thackery, novelist, author and illustrator English. The fair was inaugurated by Queen Victoria I.
The Crystal Palace or Great Shalimar structure was designed by Joseph Paxton with support from structural engineer Charles Fox. Paxton had designed greenhouses for the sixth Duke of Devonshire. The building took the form of a glass house 1,848 feet long and 454 feet wide. It was constructed with a cast iron frame and glass plate made exclusively in Birmingham and Smethwick. The size of the building allowed for the presence of trees and life-size statues inside. It also demonstrated the triumph of man over nature. The design was considered an architectural marvel that showed the significance of the exhibit. It was later removed from Hyde Park and moved to Sydenham Hill in South London, which was named the Crystal Palace area. The structure was destroyed by fire on November 30, 1936.
Six million people – the equivalent of a third of Britain’s total population at the time – visited the Great Exhibition. Average daily attendance was 42,831 with a peak attendance of 109,915 on October 7, 1851. The event created a surplus of £186,000 – the equivalent of $286 million in 2015 – which was used to fund the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum. They were all built in the area south of the exhibition nicknamed Albertopolis. The Imperial Institute was used to set up an educational trust to provide grants and scholarships for industrial research that continues today. The exhibition caused controversy as it approached its opening. Some concerned citizens feared that the mass of visitors would turn into a revolutionary mob and cause a lot of damage. This scenario never happened. The crowds were large but very enthusiastic and fascinated by what they saw.
After this first world exhibition, there was a new Crystal Palace exhibition in New York in 1853. It was part of the “Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations”. The building stood on the reservoir square. The structure of the Crystal Palace in New York was shaped like a Greek cross and was crowned with a dome 100 feet in diameter. It was also cast iron and flat glass. President Franklin Pierce spoke at the opening ceremony. After a year, Phineas T. Barnum became president of the Crystal Palace Association in May 1854. His first public program featured Henry Ward Beecher, a prominent preacher of the day and abolitionist, and Elihu Burritt, an American diplomat , philanthropist, social activist, lecturer, journalist and writer. Both were great orators of the time. It temporarily revived interest in the structure. Elisha Otis demonstrated his safety elevator there. The building was destroyed by fire on October 5, 1858, during the American Institute Fair. Within 30 minutes, the entire structure was lying on the ground. No lives were lost, but property damage amounted to $350,000, including the building valued at $150,000, the exhibits inside, and the fair’s magnificent statuary.
Other prominent world’s expositions include the Centennial Exposition of 1876–1877 in Philadelphia, the first fair sanctioned by the U.S. government; two other exhibitions in Paris in 1867 and 1889; the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago; the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where President McKinley was assassinated; the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis; and the 1933-1934 Century of Progress in Chicago. This is where the focus of this article takes a local turn.
The Century of Progress International Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, was held in the city of Chicago from 1933 to 1934. The fair, registered with the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), celebrated the Chicago Centennial Foundation. The fair’s theme was technological innovation, and its motto was “Science finds, industry applies, man adapts”, delivering a message that science and American life were inseparable. The architectural symbol of the fair was the Sky Ride, a transporter bridge perpendicular to the shore on which one could ride from one side of the fair to the other.
A description of the fair noted that the world “then still mired in the malaise of the Great Depression could glimpse a not too distant happier future, all driven by innovation in science and technology”. Visitors to the show saw the latest wonders of train travel, automotive, architecture and cigarette-smoking robots. The exhibition “focused on technology and progress, a utopia or a perfect world, based on democracy and manufacturing”. The city’s alternate motto was “I Will”. I have several postcards from Chicago with this motto on them. Some 300 artists submitted entries to symbolize the main motto, and Holloway’s entry of a battle-suited goddess figure won first prize. Reflecting her defiant attitude, she wore a breastplate that read “I Will.” With its crown representing a phoenix rising from the flames, it also seems to symbolize Chicago’s determination to rise from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed much of the city just 62 years before the Inter Ocean contest. For his inspired creation, Holloway received $200 ($5,777 in today’s equivalent).
Phyllis Wyckoff was a local child resident at the time of the Chicago World’s Fair. She was born on May 12, 1924, to Clarence Charles Wyckoff and Elsie E. Rees Wyckoff of Effingham. His father owned and operated the Effingham Finance Company. Phyllis eventually became the president of this lending institution. The company had offices in Effingham, Shelbyville, Vandalia and Greenup. When Phyllis was 5 or 6, she modeled for students at the Illinois College of Photography in the Kepley Building on South Banker Street. The top floor had a skylight that let natural light into the photography studio.
When Phyllis was 9, she and her father traveled by train to Chicago to see the Chicago Century of Progress International Exhibit. It has been 40 years since the World’s Columbian Exposition took place in Chicago. Phyllis was captivated by the sights and sounds of the fair. She and her father had enough money to dine at restaurants in the field. She told a story about her experiences at a local meeting of the Effingham County Regional Historical Society. One experience was when she went to the bathroom and found it cost a penny to use the facility. She didn’t have a penny, so she crawled under the cabin door. We both laughed about it. I’m sure Phyllis had memories of the fair that she treasured for the rest of her life.
Phyllis married Levitt Arnold in 1967 and he died in 1970. Phyllis then married widower Dale Stanley on August 18, 2001. They had been schoolmates several years before. She nicknamed him “the love of her life”. One day I was working on our Carpenter Gothic house on West Fayette Avenue in 2006. They walked past the house and turned around to visit me to see what I was doing. I showed them some of the things I had done to improve the property. We had a nice visit.
Dale was a Masonic fraternity brother of mine for 50 years and former Master of Effingham Lodge No. 149. Dale and Phyllis were married in 2001 after the death of his first wife, Eileen Taylor Stanley, in 1998. Dale was a World War II veteran. and co-owner of the Fair Feed Company in Effingham and Watson. Phyllis died on May 20, 2012 at Effingham Rehabilitation and Health Care Centre. Donations have been made in his name to the Alzheimer’s Association. Dale died at home among relatives in 2014. Both are buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Effingham.
Coincidentally, a relative of mine attended the Century of Progress exhibit during his two-year-old. I have a silver bracelet they bought at that fair. I have also collected several objects from this fair as well as many objects from the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo of 1853, 1876, 1893, 1901 where President McKinley was assassinated, of 1904, of the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915 in San Francisco and the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. Fair. They are glimpses of life and technology around the world during this historic time. I use some of the books as a reference in writing articles like this or use the item images in my many PowerPoint presentations.
If you have any questions, comments, or memories of any of these great fairs, contact Phil Lewis at [email protected] or call him at 217-342-6280.