1933 World's Fair in Chicago

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1933 World's Fair in Chicago


By: Glen C. Sheffer

Date: 1932

Source: © Swim Ink 2, LLC/Corbis.

About the Artist: Glen C. Sheffer was an illustrator known for painting landscapes, figures, and humans in action. Sheffer's impressionist works have been on exhibit in Chicago. This image is part of the collection at Corbis Corporation, headquartered in Seattle, with a worldwide archive of over seventy million images.


The official title of the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago was A Century of Progress International Exposition. The Fair was organized to mark Chicago's one hundred year anniversary. The mission of the Fair was to demonstrate the significance of scientific and technological discoveries to industry and modern society and how those discoveries were being made. The Fair also showcased modern advancements in art, literature, and architecture from across the globe. Exhibits from all over the world included new automobile designs, houses of the future, and babies living in incubators. There was also an abundance of international carnival entertainment at the Fair, including the Skyride, a cable-suspended people mover higher than any building in Chicago. The midway provided games, a roller coaster, shows, and food. A Century of Progress was the second World's Fair in Chicago, the first being a tribute to the 400 years since the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1893.

To represent modernity and the future, the buildings of the 1933 Fair were painted in many different colors, and were tall and angular in shape. This style contrasted the earlier 1893 Fair, whose buildings were all white and had curving shapes. To keep the focus on the technological exhibits inside the buildings, organizers did not build lasting monuments as seen in some of the previous World Fairs, such as the Eiffel Tower built for the Paris World Fair in 1889. In another attempt to represent the future, thousands of lights were used to light up the buildings and midway area at night. The actual site of the Fair was 427 acres, located just south of Chicago's downtown. The majority of the site was built by filling in the coast of Lake Michigan with landfill. The site later became Meigs Field airstrip, and a large convention center called McCormick Place.

A Century of Progress received sanctioning from the Bureau of International Exhibitions (BIE). The Convention on International Exhibitions established BIE in Paris in 1928 to give oversight and guidance to international exhibitions. The international community recognized the need for BIE to regulate the frequency and quality of exhibitions that had begun to occur quite frequently. The 1933 Fair was categorized by the BIE as a universal exhibition, as it covered a theme pertinent to citizens throughout the world. Smaller events sanctioned by the BIE are typically more specialized than universal exhibitions, concentrating on issues important to the host country, and other countries in the region. The BIE is not involved with trade fairs and other commercial exhibitions.



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One of the main objectives of the Chicago World's Fair was not only to highlight finished products, but also to illustrate how products were made and how science worked. The General Motors exhibit, for example, contained a functioning Chevrolet production line. Such exhibits showed the contributions factories were making to modern society. Organizers considered this an important aspect of the Fair, as many of the visitors were themselves factory workers, and such events would enable them to see the importance of their daily work. Although the Fair was designed to show that Chicago had entered an era of sophistication, some historians say this goal was not met, as many visitors were most captivated by the lights and popular entertainment the Fair provided. The Fair also brought foreign cultures to the masses. Though its main emphasis was on technology, popular exhibits and entertainers showcased cultures from across the globe. One of the most popular events was Sally Rand, an exotic fan dancer whose show made her famous at the Fair. While all World's Fairs punctuated events with multicultural entertainments, they all promoted a vision of uniting cultures through technology. The exhibits of 1930s World's Fairs promoted a common vision of modernity that crossed—and even blurred—cultural bounds.

The Fair was unique in that it was not paid for with government money. A Century of Progress was created as a non-profit corporation to organize the Fair, with members paying a fee to cover startup costs. Later, citizens of Chicago formed the World's Fair Legion, which generated further funds to organize the Fair. Over 100,000 people paid five dollars to be a member of the Legion. Corporate sponsors and private citizens financed the rest of the costs. The Fair opened on May 27, 1933 and closed for the first time on November 12, 1933. Because of its popularity, the Fair reopened on May 26, 1934 and had its final closing on October 31, 1934. The extension of the Fair resulted in over thirty-nine million admissions to the Fair, providing enough revenue to pay off its accrued debts. In contrast, many other World's Fairs have relied heavily on government subsidies.



Armour, Nelson H. The Conquest of Chicago: Visiting the 1933 World's Fair. Manhattan, Kansas: Sunflower University Press, February 2004.

Cutler, Dawes Rufus. A Century of Progress: Chicago World's Fair Centennial Celebration. Chicago, Ill.: Century of Progress, 1933.


Chase, Al. "Opening of Exposition Great Occasion of Week." Chicago Daily Tribune. Part 8 May 21 (1933): e1.

Eve, Cousin. "A Century of Progress Has Greatest Home Exhibit of Modern Times." Chicago Daily Tribune. Part 1 June 4 (1933):24.

New York Times. "1934 World's Fair Largely Revamped." New York Times. Section 1 April 1 (1934):29.

Web sites

Bureau International des Expositions. "Bureau International des Expositions." 〈http://www.bie-paris.org/main/index.php?lang=1〉 (accessed June 26, 2006).

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1933 World's Fair in Chicago