Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair

By Sokol, David M. | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2008 | Go to article overview

Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair


Sokol, David M., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair Lisa D. Shrenk. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Discussion of "The Century of Progress" world's fair is unthinkable without comparisons with "The Columbian Exposition," not only because they were the two great fairs that took place in Chicago, but also because of the ways they were alike and the ways they were so different. The two fairs were in Chicago, and each was conceived at a time of optimism and opened in times of economic adversity, but the country was in much worse shape by the time of the final plans for the 1933 fair than for the earlier cousin. Also, though both were erected on public land, the ear lier exposition was in a somewhat distant part of the city from downtown, while the latter was much closer to the core of population. Neither had buildings made to last, but the styles and image of the two could not have been more different.

The story of the loss of nerve that made the Columbian Exposition leaders call in the more conservative East Coast firms like McKim, Mead, and White, is familiar, and the Great White City-mostly neo-classical in design, is well known. Indeed, when we see the only remaining design from the 1893 fair, the Museum of Science and Industry [rebuilt of more permanent materials], we see the dramatic difference between it and the types of buildings created forty years later. Not only were the buildings and the exhibits made of: wall-board, plywood, glass block, and other new and innovative materials, but they were assembled in new ways.

One of the great challenges for the organizers of the Century Of Progress was the reality that there was virtually no direct government funding, at any level. However, this seeming burden turned out to be the proverbial blessing in disguise. Located out of City jurisdiction, and beholden to no political camp, the organizers worked with the manufacturers and industrial leaders. …

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