The Nation Transformed: The Creation of an Industrial Society

The Nation Transformed: The Creation of an Industrial Society

The Nation Transformed: The Creation of an Industrial Society

The Nation Transformed: The Creation of an Industrial Society

Excerpt

On May 10, 1876, a gigantic throng of more than one hundred thousand people--tired and hot, but eager with anticipation--swarmed into Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, in quest of the excitement that only a world's fair can offer. Fifteen bitter years had passed since the guns had boomed across the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina; and though peace had brought relief and gratitude, a nation still distracted and tormented by the problems of Reconstruction and caught fast in the grip of a relentless depression had had little cause for enthusiastic celebration. But on the morning of May 10, the season of celebration began. The great centennial exposition was being opened by the President of the United States; and in honoring those whose efforts had forged national unity in 1776, Americans of 1876 found at last what had so long eluded them--that pride in an accomplishment to which all had contributed might provide the basis for a new-found unity and hope. What at the beginning had been an untried form of government, a republic, had survived a century of the cruelest buffeting, of international wars and civil wars--and still it stood. It was reason enough for gratitude and for celebration.

But there were still other reasons, less weighty but perhaps even closer to the hearts and minds of the thousands who made their way to the exhibition hall that dwarfed the best that the expositions of Paris and Dresden had offered and that shamed even Queen Victoria's Crystal Palace. They came to gawk at the celebrities--at President Grant, at Dom Pedro, the Emperor of Brazil, at the ambassadors from the royal courts of exotic China and Austria-Hungary and the Tsar of all the Russias. They came to hear the President speak of "the specimens of their skill" that had been sent by "the enlightened agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing people of the world. . . ." Above all, they came to see the wonders that they and others had created. There were the exotic products of far-off places--porcelains and tapestries from France, teak and ivory from Siam . . .

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