DENNIS BERNARD DOWNEY, Marquette University


The World's Columbian Exposition, the Chicago world's fair of 1893, was the largest and most spectacular international exhibition of the nineteenth century. A product of an unprecedented collaboration of American architects, artists, and businessmen, the Exposition became a highly symbolic event in the cultural climate of the late nineteenth century. The Chicago fair, as a cultural symbol, brought into focus the salient intellectual and cultural rhythms of the era. Visitors to the Exposition recognized its larger-than-life quality, and a later generation of cultural critics has looked to this world's fair in examining a watershed in American life. In addition to giving equal treatment to all sides of the Exposition's development, I have attempted to demonstrate the intimate connection between the Fair and the larger cultural milieu. Central to the culture was a belief in the inevitability of human progress. "Progress" has been the animating spirit of the modern world, and by the late nineteenth century it was raised to an article of faith in social thought. The Chicago world's fair was conceived as a statement of the material, intellectual, and artistic progress of the century. It, the fair, was not merely a catalogue of past accomplishments; it was judged to be the handmaid of progress, illuminating the path to what was called the "new era," the golden age of the twentieth century. Through the use of manuscript collections and personal papers, as well as secondary sources, I have attempted to give a picture of the conception and development of the Columbian Exposition, with reference to its significance to the larger culture of late nineteenth century American civilization. Particular attention has been given to the importance of the idea of progress to the event and the culture. The significance of the event is judged with respect to the culture it mirrored. In a special way the World's Columbian Exposition represented an end and a beginning in American life. By its very nature the Exposition became the great symbol for the age.

Recommended Citation

DOWNEY, DENNIS BERNARD, "RITE OF PASSAGE: THE WORLD'S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION AND AMERICAN LIFE" (1981). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI8211434.