Celebrating the New World

The Chicago World’s Fair opened on May 1, 1893, in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World. Chicago, a city known for its wealth as well as its corruption, had vied with many others for the privilege and profit associated with hosting the 27 million people who would visit the Exposition during its magnificent six-month run.

With its famous White City and the magical Midway, the Chicago World’s Fair was a remarkable achievement that could be traced directly to the leadership and vision of its chief architect and organizer, Daniel Burnham. The exposition became a tremendous showcase for architectural ideas and technological innovation that would propel America and the world into the twentieth century. Yet it also mirrored the ugly side of American society, with its overt gender and race discrimination.

A snapshot view of the Columbian Exposition of 1893, drawn from the author’s detailed description, reveals much about American popular culture at the time. Highlighted are the debut of the Ferris wheel, John Philip Sousa conducting his rousing patriotic marches, Little Egypt performing the shockingly indecent “hootchy-kootchy,” Scott Joplin playing ragtime tunes, and America’s fascination with the bicycle. A host of new products (destined to have staying power) were also introduced: Cracker Jack, Juicy Fruit gum, and Aunt Jemima’s Pancake mix, just to name a few.

Muccigrosso does an excellent job of transporting the reader to America in the 1890’s and then back to the present. His insightful introductory remarks round out the picture by discussing the controversy surrounding Christopher Columbus’ legacy in the politically correct 1990’s.