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Photography Thu Dec 03 2015
No, it's not the most famous world's fair ever hosted in Chicago. The fame of the 1933-34 Century of Progress exhibition is eclipsed by the renown, the infamy and the iconic images of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition held in Jackson Park and the south shore of Lake Michigan to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the new world. The 1893 fair became even more familiar with the popularity of Eric Larson's 2003 book, Devil in the White City.
The 1933-34 Century of Progress celebrated Chicago's first century of industrial and scientific achievements. More than 48 million people visited the fair, which stretched for 3.5 miles along the lakefront at the present site of McCormick Place and Northerly Island. (The entire US population at the time was about 125 million.) The fair was considered so important that it became the fourth star on Chicago's municipal flag. And in the Gapers Block nameplate.
A new book, A Century of Progress: A Photographic Tour of the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair, features more than 100 photographs (many of them previously unpublished) taken by the Chicago Tribune staff.
The 1933-34 exhibition motto was "Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms" and it celebrated Chicago's centennial as a city. There were industrial and scientific displays, such as the GM pavilion where visitors could watch a car being assembled. The fair was known for its Moderne architecture and Homes of Tomorrow exhibit. Visitors could take in "racy" entertainment when striptease artist Sally Rand danced in the Streets of Paris exhibit. And scenes were recreated from Chicago's history (one can only imagine how Mrs. O'Leary's cow was portrayed). Considering the time period, it isn't surprising that a certain amount of bad taste and insensitivity was involved. For instance, one exhibit ("Midget City") was populated with 60 so-called "Lilliputians."
The 144-page book, in 8.5"x11" format, opens with an introduction from Tribune reporter and historian Ron Grossman. Tribune photography director Robin Daughtridge describes how the images were gathered from the paper's archives in the book's foreword. The photos document everything from construction to demolition of the fair, as well as the people who worked at and attended the fair, which was open from May to November 1933. Because of its popularity, it was reopened to run for five months in 1934.
The book, published by Agate Publishing, is available now as a PDF or e-book. The hardcover will be available Dec. 15. The price is $24.95 for all formats.