The Centennial Exposition of 1876 was America’s first official world’s fair. This fair was held in Philadelphia for celebrating 100th anniversary of the “Declaration of Independence”. This fair was really important in the history of America as it portray an image of progressive American society, culture and economy on an international platform. This Centennial Exposition was not only celebrated America’s hundred years of independence, but it was also held to showcase the recovery of the country form its reconstruction phase after its independence and the emergence of the nation as an internationally significant industrial super power.
This paper will make an attempt to analyze how the Centennial Exposition of 1876 represented the identity of America and how this exposition provided a narrative of American history. The main focus will be on the nature of the exposition which is known better known as a platform where America’s image transformation was made. Thus the thesis statement of this paper can be as follows: The Centennial Exposition of 1876 gave the country a new progressive image in socio-cultural and economic field of America.
This thesis statement will be illustrated throughout this paper using several primary sources relating to the American Centennial Exposition of 1876. The focus will be on how the exposition portrayed America’s emergence as a big economic power in world, and how it depicted socio-cultural progress of the nation in terms freed slaves and increasing women contribution in the society. Apart from these, this paper will also discuss how the exposition highlighted the future of America. American Centennial Exposition:
The American Centennial Exposition was actually an official exhibition of Manufactures, products of mine and soil, and arts on an international platform. A large section of American population attended the fair. Approximately twenty percent of the population at that time visited the fair. While in one hand, the fair is memorable for the publication of various Centennial and other poems and music, on the hand, this exposition was designed to showcase America’s innovative progress in the industrial arena. The planning for this exposition had taken as many as ten tears to give it its final shape.
The primary sources relating to the American Centennial Exposition including guide to the Centennial, its images, its roadmap, and various articles like “illustrated History of the Centennial exhibition, held in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of American independence” by McCabe portray the features of the exposition and how the exposition had captured the American history and created a new image of the nation to the world. From the photos, Centennial souvenir, and guide to the exposition, it is found that the focal point of the exposition was to showcase its industrial progress.
The main attraction of the fair was its Machinery Hall which was decorated with excellent engineering wonders of that age. It showcased electric lights, strongly powered elevators, printing presses, locomotives, mining equipments, magic lanterns, along with introducing some completely new engineering products to the public like mechanical calculator, typewriters, the telephone which was invented by bell, and the telegraph invented by Edison. All these engineering products show the bright industrialized future of the country. Apart from the Machinery building, there were also a number of other attractions in the exposition.
For example, significant number of visitors used to visit the Main Building of the fair which was devoted to manufactures of different nations including America. Apart from this, there were also the Memorial which showcased fine arts and the Horticulture Hall which was actually a conservatory for displaying of various native and exotic plants. One of the most excellent things about this first international fair of America was that it presented everything in a very systematic way in the sense that every item was classified in the exposition by departments, like Manufactures, Horticulture, Agriculture, Mining, Education and science and so on.
Not only that, there were also various sub-classifications, and sub-sub-classifications on the basis of a logical scheme. The Centennial Exposition produced significant impact on the image of the United States. Prior to 1876, the US was generally considered as a not-so-developed country which was not yet entitled for joining the category of first-class nations. The people living in America in the post Civil War period had gone through a very difficult phase as all those years were marked by various heinous political scandals along with inferior leadership. Although progress in the field of agriculture, industry, etc.
had been taking place remarkably on the land of America, it had never been highlighted to the rest of the world. It was the Centennial Exposition which for the first time gave an opportunity for the visitors as well as businessmen from other nations to have a close look and get astonished at the sparkling industrial productivity of the America along with its creativity and progressiveness in the field of industry and agriculture. It was only after this fair, when America was started to be hailed as the land of progress which was also thought of becoming one of the most significant economic superpower in future.
The exposition gave the people living in America at that time pride in their present situation and lots of confidence on their even brighter future. (University of Delware library, 2009). The American utilized the platform of the Centennial to highlight their innovations in industrial and agricultural areas as at that time they were on the verge of beginning its global economic presence amidst the then economically powerful nations. Representatives of other countries, who came to the fair to showcase their own thing, also got the opportunity to purchase things from American firms.
The engineering marvels created by Native Americans impressed the visitors. Americans showcased huge engines and machines having complex system that would become the economic future of America by producing industrial products. Primary sources like the photos and Guide to the Exposition show that American did not participate in the fair only to represent America as a whole; instead in a number of cases they represented various states of America. For example, there was Delaware Building in the fair which represented this various crafts of this state.
Delaware put its focus on its potentials for developing with a strong economy. It emphasized towns, its transportation facilities along with educational facilities. (University of Delware library, 2009). As far as the socio-cultural field is concerned, this fair also showcased its culture to the rest of the world by introducing around 53 native tribes. They were brought to the fair and they made their camp within it and became one of the most popular display of the fair. The motive behind showcasing them was to introduce the original inhabitant of the nation and their mode of life.
These tribal people were considered to be the most deprived and backward segment of the population. But without their progress, the overall economic progress could not have been achieved. The purpose of putting special focus on them was to send message to the rest of the world that the American government was quite aware of the progress of these native people without exercising any bias towards a particular advanced group of people only. (“People & Events: The Centennial Exposition of 1876”) Finally, the exposition also represented the contribution of women to the American society for the first time in the history of America.
Various primary sources like the articles, such as “illustrated History of the Centennial exhibition, held in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of American independence” by McCabe, “ Declaration and Protect of the Women of the United states” by National Woman Suffrage Association , etc showed that at the time of planning of the fair a committee for women protested the male dominated nature of the fair and lobbied for creating a women’s building in the fair. This committee also raised fund and gained support for constructing their own building.
They also showcased women’s contribution in the areas of arts, science, humanities and so on. The members of National women Suffrage also made an attempt to read a declaration or their rights. But they were not permitted to do so for which they showcased huge protest. Conclusion: The American Centennial Exposition can therefore be characterized as a platform where Americans tried to change their image to the rest of the world. In practice, the Americans were able to properly utilize the big platform of the fair to create their new identity as a progressive economic power which had a bight future.
The wonderful narratives of its historical development through exhibiting its progress in industrial, agricultural, and socio-economic sector attracted huge number of visitors across the world and changed their vision regarding the nation. Reference: 1. UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE LIBRARY. (2009). PROGRESS MADE VISIBLE: THE CENTENNIAL EXPOSITION, PHILADELPHIA, 1876. Available at http://www. lib. udel. edu/ud/spec/exhibits/fairs/cent. htm ( accessed on 26th August, 2010). 2. People & Events: The Centennial Exposition of 1876. Available at http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/amex/grant/peopleevents/e_expo. html ( accessed on 26th August, 2010). :
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