US Environmental History: Inviting Doomsday

By John Wills | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
The Disaster City and Hurricane Katrina

On 16 December 1884, the gates opened to the World’s Fair at New Orleans, Louisiana. Thousands of visitors made their way by railway, pavement and even by steamboat to the fair. The exhibition space stretched from St Charles Avenue to the Mississippi. The main building spanned 33 acres (13 ha), the largest roofed structure of its time. Testament to the Thomas Edison era, 5,000 lights shone inside, some ten times the number located in the city outside. A giant Mexican brass band entertained while spectators explored electric lifts, Venetian glass, a Japanese tea pagoda and a refrigerated display of 10,000 packs of butter.

Geographic confluences of imagination, high technology, and internationalism, World’s Fairs excited spectators with dazzling displays of the future. The most famous incarnation, Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, testified to the hopes of the American nation. Captured within Chicago’s 633-acre (249-ha) Jackson Park was a veritable cornucopia of technological modernism. Chicago’s Machinery Hall featured its own power plant, providing power for a legion of singing sewing machines and turning the world’s first conveyor belt. The agricultural building included a supersized cheese from Canada and a liberty bell made from oranges. Fairs abounded with urban fantasies and promoted whitecity templates of design. Fair architects designed future American cities within their parks, envisaging places of abundance, cleanliness and high technology. Some 27 million visitors attended the 1893

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