Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/June 1899/American Industrial Expositions - their Purposes and Benefits

Popular Science Monthly Volume 55 June 1899  (1899) 
American Industrial Expositions - their Purposes and Benefits by Marcus Benjamin



INDUSTRIAL expositions are a natural development of the fairs of the middle ages. The latter are believed to have originated in the religious gatherings which afforded an opportunity for the sale of wares to large numbers of people. Such fairs still persist in northern Europe, and the best known of them is probably that held three times a year in Leipsic, to which, it is said, "some twenty-five or thirty thousand foreign merchants" are still attracted each year.

In course of time international exhibitions at which specimens of the arts and industries of the great nations of the world were contrasted came into vogue. These began with the International Exhibition held in London in 1851, and of them three have been held in the United States, as follows: The first in New York, in 1853; the second in Philadelphia, in 1876; and the third in Chicago, in 1893. The great magnitude of such expositions has led in recent years to their specialization or subdivision into expositions at which only a specialty was presented. Notable among such have been the following, which were for the most part international: Of articles connected with the leather industry, held in Berlin, in 1877; of all kinds of paper and pasteboard, held in Berlin, in 1878; of fisheries, held in Berlin, in 1880; of electricity, held in Paris, in 1881; of geography, held in Venice, in 1881; of cotton, held in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1881; of early data in American history, held in Madrid, in 1881; of fisheries, held in London, in 1883; of historical matters pertaining to Columbus and the discovery of America, held in Madrid, in 1892; and of hygiene, including chemical, pharmaceutical, and sanitary objects, held in Naples, in 1894.

Similarly there has been a development in the United States from local fairs, such as those of the various mechanics' institutes, typical of which is the one held annually since 1828 in New York city under the auspices of the American Institute, into interstate expositions. Of these, since 1880, the following have been held: Cincinnati Industrial Exposition, Cincinnati, Ohio, September 30 to October 4, 1883; Southern Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky, August 16 to October 25, 1883; World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana, December 16, 1883, to June 30, 1884; Central Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States, Cincinnati, Ohio, July 4 to October 7, 1888; California Midwinter Fair, San Francisco, California, January 1 to July 4, 1894; Cotton States and Industrial Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia, September 18 to December 31, 1895; Tennessee Centennial Exposition, Nashville, Tennessee, May 1 to October 31, 1897; and Trans-Mississippi International Exposition, Omaha, Nebraska, June 1 to November 1, 1898.

Of the foregoing, the more important were those held in New Orleans, in 1884; in San Francisco, in 1894; in Atlanta, in 1895; in Nashville, in 1897, and in Omaha, in 1898; especially so from the fact that all of these received recognition by the Government; and, with the exception of that held in San Francisco, liberal appropriations were made for their support by Congress. Moreover, at each of them, excepting again that held in San Francisco, a special Government building was erected in which the national Government made exhibits of the workings of the several executive departments, together with the Smithsonian Institution and its dependencies and the Fish Commission.

The first named, that of New Orleans, was held as a celebration of the centenary of the cotton industry in the United States. The first record of cotton as a factor in the foreign trade of this country appeared in the shipment in 1784 of six bags, amounting to about one bale, from Charleston, South Carolina. Audubon Park was the site on which the buildings were erected.

The exposition held in San Francisco, in 1894, had for its purpose the affording of an opportunity to foreign exhibitors at the World's Fair to further display their goods in the United States, and in consequence a great number of exhibits were shipped direct from Chicago to the Pacific coast. The exposition was located in Golden Gate Park.

The Atlanta Exposition had its inception in a belief that the agricultural, mineral, and manufacturing resources of the South were not adequately represented in Chicago in 1893. It was believed that a better exhibit of the products of the Southland would tend to foster greater trade relations between that section of our country and other parts of the United States, as well as with foreign countries, especially those to the south, such as Mexico. The Cotton States Exposition was held in Piedmont Park.

The exposition in Nashville was designed primarily to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the admission of Tennessee into the Federal Union. Recognizing the commercial and educational advantages to be derived from such a demonstration, it was deemed wise to characterize the celebration as an exhibit of "the matchless resources of Tennessee, and at the same time to lead to their greater development." The old West Side Park was chosen as the site of the "Centennial City."

The exposition held last year in Omaha had for its purposes to do for the Trans-Mississippi States what the more local exhibitions had done for Atlanta and Nashville. It was claimed that it would for the "first time fully illustrate the wealth-producing power and the extent of productive industries of the Greater West," and it did. The exposition grounds were included within what was called the Kountze tract and the old fair grounds.

Each of these expositions has been projected for distinct commercial reasons. They have had for their immediate purposes the presentation of the products of the region in which they were located to their neighbors, to the nation, and to the world. In this sense they have been simply the offspring of the fairs of the middle ages, differing from them only in that the feature of sale has been largely eliminated. That they have been successful in accomplishing the results desired is beyond doubt; indeed, the expositions in Nashville and Omaha were even financial successes. But they have done more than this; they have accomplished a world of good in the way of education.

Let us consider some of these benefits. Beginning with the grounds, these have been given over to the charge of some competent landscape architect under whose skillful supervision the desert has been made to blossom like a rose. The sand hills of San Francisco became the beautiful "Palm City," which since the close of the exposition has become one of the most attractive spots in the Golden Gate Park. At Nashville the landscape effects were claimed by many to excel in beauty those of the World's Fair in Chicago. "Evergreens, vines, and shrubs are everywhere, and three lakes break this vista of green," was the opinion of one visitor. Besides the general architectural effect of the buildings, which can not but impress those who are so fortunate as to visit these expositions, there is a special value in the reproductions of historical buildings. At Atlanta the Massachusetts Building was a representation of the Craigie House, the headquarters of Washington when in Cambridge at the beginning of the Revolution, and later the home of the poet Longfellow. It was a fortunate inspiration of the late Dr. G. Brown Goode that led to its presentation by the State of Massachusetts to the local Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The architectural feature of the Nashville Exposition was the replica of the Athenian Parthenon in all its artistic beauty. Every detail was true to the original in design and coloring. It was the chief glory of the centennial, and as it was a permanent structure it will long remain to the "Athens of the South" a memorial of its exposition. Of less conspicuous interest were the reproductions of the Rialto of Venice and the Alamo of San Antonio.

The only architectural feature of historic character announced for Omaha was that "the Arkansas Building will be a reproduction of the mansion of General Albert Pike in 1843." The long oval waterway around which the buildings were grouped afforded, however, excellent opportunity for studying the architecture of the buildings, which, it was claimed with much justice, approached those of the never-to-be-forgotten "White City" in their beauty of design.

From the exterior to the interior is a natural method of progression. Let us therefore pass to a brief consideration of the educational features that are to be derived from an examination, no matter how cursory, of the displays that are to be seen within the buildings. First of all, and indeed frequently the most important, is the exhibit made by the national Government. In the special building devoted to that purpose are shown the exhibits of the several executive departments, including also that of the Smithsonian Institution and its dependencies, and the Fish Commission. As a result of the years of accumulated experience there has been in each of the expositions previously mentioned, except that in San Francisco, a distinct improvement in the installation of the exhibits in the Government Building, until it was recognized in Atlanta that the display was superior to that in Chicago, and in Nashville "the best exhibit ever made" was the verdict of those who had seen the successive expositions previous to that in Omaha. Therefore the telling of a story by means of objects in the best manner possible is the result sought for and attained most perfectly by those who installed the Government exhibits.

It is, of course, understood that the purpose of the Government exhibit is to familiarize the public with the methods of carrying on the functions of the different departments. Thus, in the post-office exhibit there is shown the entire sequence of postage stamps, both of the United States and foreign countries, the various kinds of mail bags, figures of the mail carriers in their different uniforms, and finally models or pictures of the methods of transportation. The Treasury Department shows the working of the mint by the striking of commemorative medals, while a full series of the existing medals and coins of the country are displayed in cases on the wall. The functions of the Department of the Interior are shown by exhibits of a series of models of some important invention, as, for instance, a sequence showing the development of the sewing machine. In this way—for of course the blanks and other documents are shown—the working of the Patent Office is demonstrated; while the Geological Survey, also of the Department of the Interior, presents a series of minerals, showing the economical wealth of the country, together with its maps and reports, results of work accomplished. Everything can not be shown, but a most excellent idea of what each department does can be had from a study of the exhibits of the Government.

Next in importance to the Government Building is the one devoted to commerce, and here are usually to be found the weak points of our American expositions. In lieu of a series of exhibits showing the progress in a given industry or trade, we find too frequently a collection of nondescript articles without much if any relationship to each other. This is due primarily to a lack of proper organization in soliciting exhibits, and also because the awards or medals of the jurors are so often of no relative value. The second condition is an outcome of the first. To be more specific, in Nashville there were no exhibits from any one of the larger and well-known silver firms, and yet American silverware has a recognized status as one of the most successful of our American art industries. Cut glassware is another branch in which our artisans or art workmen have achieved splendid results, and still there were no exhibits from art glassmakers in Nashville. Certain varieties of art pottery and art glassware, such as the Rookwood pottery and the Tiffany glass, are seldom seen at these smaller expositions. In consequence the juror makes an award to the best article of its kind on exhibition, which may be but a third-rate article compared with others; still it is the best shown in the exposition, and therefore worthy of recognition. Another unfortunate feature must be mentioned at this point. It is the decorative feature. At the last World's Fair held in Paris there was a colossal figure of George Washington in chocolate exhibited by an American manufacturer of that article. While it might be considered as a laudable attempt to make known to the French nation the features of the "Father of his Country," and from that point of view worthy of recognition, still it was no evidence of the superiority of the chocolate, and therefore could not be considered in connection with the giving of an award. This condition of affairs prevails at every exposition, and too frequently an exhibit of a meritorious article is made in such a modest manner that its claims are overshadowed by the pretentious display of something quite inferior.

Two conditions thus present themselves—namely, the lack of proper exhibits and the improper presentation of certain exhibits. The first condition may be overcome by a more perfect canvass of the industries of the country. In nearly every one of these there is a national organization, and it should be the duty of that body to consider the matter. By the appointment of committees and working among the representatives of the industry, either a good exhibit from the leading firms could be secured, or else a collective exhibit of the best from many firms could be obtained. Typical of the last named was the exhibit made by the potters of the country at the World's Fair in Chicago. By the adoption of such a method of displaying the products of manufacturers the possibility of the second condition would be entirely eliminated.

After all, the value of these expositions is chiefly educational, and surely no more perfect way of educating the visitor or sightseer could be found than by placing before him a historical series of products, beginning with the one made first in point of time, continuing with better specimens, showing the improvements that have resulted from increased experience and knowledge, and culminating with the finest product now made. The contrast between the first and the last would be indeed most striking.

It must not be thought from the foregoing remarks that these interstate expositions have been lacking in the presentation of the products of their own home industries. Far from it. In San Francisco, in Atlanta, in Nashville, and in Omaha the local manufacturers did themselves great credit by the admirable way in which their goods were shown, but it was just in this particular feature that the weak point indicated previously made itself most conspicuous. A local silversmith could hardly be expected to compete with the more famous manufacturers in the same line in larger cities, and yet in the absence of an exhibit by the better known firm an award would naturally be given to the smaller manufacturer, thus creating a false impression to the world at large.

It must not be assumed that the educational value of the exhibits in the Commerce Building is without commendation. Next to making a thing, the seeing of it is most important, and surely no one can pass along the aisles of any exposition without noticing much that is new or unusual, no matter what his previous experience may have been. It is in this connection that the foreign section is frequently most instructive. Warm furs from Russia and the north, rich fabrics and strange metal ware from the Orient, rare porcelains from Copenhagen, and brilliant glassware from Bohemia and Hungary, tell the story with striking vividness of the special products of the Old-World nations.

As has been shown, the finished products of manufacturers are those that are housed in the building devoted to commerce and manufacturing, but the raw materials require a building or two for themselves. That in which the products of the earth are exhibited is usually designated the "Minerals and Forestry Building." This requires but brief mention, and has its chief interest for the expert. Geological specimens, including paleontological and lithological exhibits, show the age and character of the soil, while the rocks further indicate the possibilities of the territory, for they show the geological horizon. In natural order are shown the minerals of the country. At Atlanta and Nashville the richness of the mineral wealth of the Southern States was fully demonstrated. Not only ores such as those of iron and manganese, but the combustible minerals, as coal, lignite, and petroleum, were exhibited. More striking, perhaps, are the great numbers of economic minerals that these expositions show. The materials—phosphate rock, sulphur, and nitrates—used in making artificial fertilizers; the marbles; the pigment-yielding minerals, including ochres, umber, and barite; the clays, with their products of earthenware and pottery, bricks, and tiles; and even mineral waters are among the different minerals to be seen. It is from such exhibits that something of an idea is obtained of the enormous wealth that is contained in the earth, waiting only to be excavated and fashioned into articles of beauty and utility. While such exhibits are frequently to be seen in museums, still the average mind is more impressed by the casual examination of these things in expositions, and one's pride of home increased by the rich stores of mineral wealth attractively installed. It is customary also to show models of the machinery used in mining, and even books, maps, and drawings are not uncommonly seen.

A similar arrangement is followed in regard to the forest products. Logs and sections of trees, as well as samples of wood and timber of all kinds, are shown. Then come the finished products—boards, shingle, and moldings—and finally the manufactured articles, such as pails, tubs, and then furniture. Barks, as for tanning or dyeing, seeds and gums, and the wood pulp for paper are on exhibition. Among the miscellaneous products deserving mention are fibers, as used in basket-making or cane work.

Forestry as a science is made the basis of a series of exhibits. These include timber culture, tools used, and methods employed in planting and caring for trees. And finally lumbering as a science finds a place in the scheme followed in this department. This includes the tools used in lumbering and the methods employed, as well as exhibits illustrating the tan-bark industry, the turpentine industry, and the charcoal industry. So it happens that there is much that can be learned by the student who will devote a little time to the analysis of the exhibits in the building devoted to the products of the mines and the forest.

A visit to the Agricultural Building reveals to the interested observer those products of the soil that are for the most part the result of cultivation, and so we find exhibits of cereals—wheat, oats, barley, and the like—and then their immediate products: bread, pastes such as macaroni, and starches. The sugar-yielding plants, together with honey and the manufactured product, as candy and other confections, come next in order. The root crops, such as potatoes or beets, and the vegetables, are of much importance. Preserved meats and food preparations, dairy products, spices, tea, and tobacco are among the articles on exhibition. Then come the plants yielding fibers, as cotton and the like; but we hasten on to make mention of the exhibits of implements used in agriculture and its special subdivisions, such as horticulture, viticulture, floriculture, and arboriculture. Who will gainsay the fact that the farmer can not do otherwise than learn much from a visit to the home of the products of the soil? It it also customary to include a live-stock exhibition during some period of the exposition.

Mention has been made of the building devoted to the finished products of manufactures and of the buildings in which the crude materials are displayed. Besides these there are usually several buildings devoted to the exhibition of the means by which the original substances, whether from the mine, forest, or farm, are made up into the commercial product for the merchant. One of these is called the "Transportation Building," and in it we find the various means by which the raw materials are conveyed to the factory. From the lower forms of transportation of which man is the motive power, such as the wheelbarrow, upward through the various forms of vehicles of which the power comes from horses and other animals, until as the topmost member of the series is shown the magnificently equipped train of railway cars, provided with all the conveniences that modern luxury can devise. If the visitor is not content with land locomotion, more than likely he can find an exhibit in which transportation on water is possible, as by means of a naphtha or steam launch.

Machinery is the active means by which the immediate transposition of the crude material into the finished article is accomplished. And in a building where the ceaseless belt moves with the rapidly revolving pulley may be seen the many forms of machinery which the active brain of the ingenious mechanic has devised to cheapen labor and increase production. The change of the cotton fiber into cloth, or the passage of the silken thread into the finished handkerchief; the revolving cylinder on which the virgin sheet of white paper becomes the printed purveyor of news; or the many and varied appliances by which the piece of leather is fashioned into a covering for the foot; or again the means by which the strip of steel is made into a pin or needle, are among the interesting things that may be seen in Machinery Hall.

Conspicuous among the many interesting wonders of science that were shown at the Centennial, in 1876, were the few, insignificant, blue, flickering, and unstable lights that ushered into existence a new era in the history of electricity. In Atlanta, in Nashville, and in Omaha a building was necessary to hold the appliances and products of the latest of our sciences. Telephones no longer impress us by their newness, and the appliances of electricity to heating and lighting are now household necessities. To those who treasured the memory of the beauty of the lighted Court of Honor at the White City in Chicago there was given a greater joy when the entire grounds of the beautiful Centennial City in Nashville were illuminated with more than seventeen thousand incandescent lamps. Daylight had faded into darkness only to emerge into an electric day of brilliancy unsurpassed. Thus was told the story of the progress of the science which as a result of the studies of Franklin, Henry, Morse, and Graham Bell may well be regarded as the American science.

A parting word must be given to the amusement features. How the Streets of Cairo, now so hackneyed, linger in one's memory! The Enchanted Swing was one of the novel features of the Midwinter Fair in San Francisco, and of weird interest was the Night and Morning in Nashville. The Mexican and Japanese villages were excellent features in Atlanta, and so was the Chinese village in Nashville, although the "Old Plantation" was more popular. Panoramas such as that of the Battle of Gettysburg, or pyrotechnic spectacular shows such as The Storming of Wei-Hai-Wei, are of value. The musical features must not be forgotten, even if popular fancy leans toward Dixie, for the occasional "Gems-from the Operas" help to leaven the mass. At Nashville the military drills by the national and State troops were of considerable interest, and much had been hoped for in Omaha in this respect, but the war prevented.

In this analysis, incomplete, it is true, of these American interstate expositions something has been shown of their design and more of their benefits. They have had for their purpose the exhibition of the materials, processes, and products of manufacture, but their ultimate benefit has been that of education. To the thoughtful an opportunity has been afforded of following the crude material through the processes of manufacture until the finished product has been exhibited. The variety of crude materials was shown him, the different processes were contrasted, and finally the completed article was exhibited which possessed this merit or that advantage according to the process followed. For the mere pleasure-seeker there were the delights of attractive surroundings, the beauty of the exhibits, and the delights of music or other entertainments. Indeed, all the influences are for good.

Let it then be the effort of every one, whether official, exhibitor, or visitor, to use his influence to improve and elevate these expositions so that only the most desirable localities shall be chosen in which to hold them, and let the selection of exhibits be made so as to include the most worthy; for then, and only then, will the visitor derive the greatest benefit.

And so from time to time and in various places we shall have these interstate expositions, which will show to the world the advancement made in the development of the resources of our great country.