The Devil in the White City

by Erik Larson

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What three inventions were used in building the Chicago World’s Fair in The Devil in the White City?

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In The Devil in the White City, three inventions used in the building of the Chicago World’s Fair were the Ferris Wheel, Edison's kinetoscope, and the long-distance telephone. These were among the novelties that required fair designers to plan to include sufficient electrical power and ensure the safety of guests. Construction of the Ferris wheel was a huge undertaking because of its size, and it was intended to rival the Eiffel Tower and enhance Chicago's reputation as a major city.

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Three inventions used in the building of the Chicago World’s Fair were the Ferris Wheel, Edison's kinetoscope, and the long-distance telephone. These were among the novelties the author writes about, noting that “within the fair’s buildings visitors encountered devices and concepts new to them and to the world.”

Larson goes on to describe many of these novelties which included the long-distance telephone by which visitors to the fair were able to hear “live music played by an orchestra in New York,” “the first moving pictures on Edison’s Kinetoscope,” and the first automatic dish washer machine. However, perhaps most impressive of all, and the introduction of which the book spends more time detailing, is that of the Ferris wheel.

It was a huge undertaking for many reasons. First, to power and stabilize the wheel was a daunting task because it was designed to be the largest such device that the people in charge of building the world’s fair had ever encountered. To power it required

big steam boilers seven hundred feet away on Lexington Avenue, outside the Midway, to build steam and fill the ten-inch underground mains.

Moreover, the fair's planners wanted to show how Chicago could rival other more renowned cities such as Paris, which had hosted the fair just a few years earlier in 1889. A key goal that the planners had was to put Chicago on the map as a major city worth visiting and to be taken seriously. To them, the wheel was intended to rival the Eiffel Tower.

One of the fair's safety inspectors

saw how the great wheel towered over everything in its vicinity, just as Eiffel’s creation did in Paris. The exclamations of fellow passengers as to the wheel’s size and apparent fragility filled him with a mixture of pride and anxiety.

The author also talks about how people marveled when they watched “the moving pictures in Edison’s Kinetoscope.” The fair featured how versatile and powerful electric power could be. Until then, most light emanated from gas-powered sources. However, the fair’s planners wanted to use electricity instead. Electricity, in turn, powered many of the exhibits introduced, including the world’s first electric dishwasher. In fact, construction of the Electricity Building was paramount to the fair’s planners.

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