What historical reference appears on pages 108-9 of The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson?

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These pages discuss several historical facts:

  • The death of John Root, one of the principal architects of the fair, caused subsequent speculation that the fair could not proceed without him.
  • On January 20, 1891, there was a bank failure in Kansas City that caused the president of the fair to...

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These pages discuss several historical facts:

  • The death of John Root, one of the principal architects of the fair, caused subsequent speculation that the fair could not proceed without him.
  • On January 20, 1891, there was a bank failure in Kansas City that caused the president of the fair to resign.
  • In 1885, there was a cholera outbreak in Chicago that killed ten percent of the city’s population.
  • Labor unions began agitating for a minimum wage and the eight-hour work day.

Larsen does not go into much detail on these pages about any of these events; his aim is to convey how several factors, including Root’s death, made the prospect of having a successful fair uncertain. The detail about labor unions trying to use the high profile Fair project as leverage in getting labor reform is interesting, in that the resistance to labor demands was largely at odds with the utopian ideals of the fair.

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The major historical reference on these pages is to the labor unrest of this time in American history and to the goals that the unions hoped to achieve.  The Columbian Exposition was held only a few years before the “official” beginning of the Progressive Era in 1900, but there were of course progressive ideas already in circulation.  Some of these are mentioned on these pages.

The progressives and labor unions wanted to curb the power of big businesses.  They wanted to force the businesses to treat their workers better.  On these pages, Larson mentions worries about the unions using the fair to push for minimum wages and the 8- hour day.  He also mentions concerns about pollution and the sickness that could come with it.  All of these things were issues that worried the unions and/or the progressives.

Thus, the major historical reference is to the demands that were being made by unions and progressives in the late 1800s.

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