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Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States  1888

Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States

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Poster of the Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States

Dates Open - Originally slated to open July 4, 1888 and close October 27. The official report states that the closing day was extended to November 8. Not open Sundays. Open 110 days.

Attendance - 1,056,888. July 4 - October 27 turnstyle attendance was 962,145. October 29 - November 8 attendance was 94,743.

International Participants - 8 nations, including the United States.

Total Cost - Total cost $1,043,174, receipts $1,043,537

Site Acreage - Total acres for the exposition unknown. Held in area of the Music Hall, Washington Park, and to the rear of the Music Hall.

Sanction and Type - Prior to the Bureau of International Expositions. Would be considered a Recognized Expo with Special qualities like on the 2-3,7-8 years of each decade today.

Ticket Cost - Season ticket price $5.00. Adult admission price was 25 cents. Per capita stated as $0.277 and $0.248, depending on the source, which may contradict the adult price at 25 cents. Go figure.

Photo top center: Poster of the Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States, 1888. Courtesy Pinterest. Column Top: Lithograph of the Cincinnati exhibition, 1888, Krebs Lithographing Company. Courtesy Pinterest. Column Bottom: Drawing of the exposition site, including the Music Hall, Machinery Hall, and Main Exhibition Hall, 1888. Courtesy

Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States

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History of the Event

Cincinnati Music Hall 1888

It was an extension of the series of events that Cincinnati had held since prior to the Civil War, the city being at the forefront of the exhibition movement, albeit more on the regional and national sense, since the Cincinnati Mechanics Institute Fairs which began in 1838 and lasted until 1860, and especially the Industrial Expositions from 1870 to this fair year 1888. The Industrial Expos stopped from 1876 to 1878 in deference to the Centennial International Exposition held in Philadelphia in 1876. There was a smaller textile fair in 1869 as well.

Should 1888 be considered a world's fair? Perhaps that's a stretch, however, there were exhibits from seven foreign nations, plus the United States and Smithsonian Institution, so it qualifies a bit. Many consider it a national exposition. More than that consider it a regional exposition, if they consider it much at all beyond the magnificent Music Hall that was used and still stands. Although there is that argument over just what the exposition was, at the time, press reports such as the New York Times acknowledged it was a celebration of the settlement of the Northwest Territories (Ohio plus) and the founding of the city and thought that the exposition would do well considering the city's prior exhibition experience.

The Music Hall had been built in 1877 at a cost of one million dollars for use during the series of one month Industrial Expositions, as well as a choral facility. Two additional buildings were built for the Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States in 1888; a Main Exhibition Hall and Machinery Hall. They cost $225,149 to construct. The Main Exhibition building, located in Washington Park, was two stories tall, 600' x 110' and 400'x 110'. The Machinery Hall was situated across the Miami and Erie Canal, which was transformed into a Venetian delight during the fair. It was 1300' x 150'. Between the two new buildings, there was 21.5 more acres (950,000 square feet) of exhibit space. Eventually, fifteen states and those foreign nations participated in the three and one half month exposition.

There had been no industrial exposition in 1887, so the site could be prepared for this larger extension. The extra time allowed the buildings to be completed on time and the atmosphere constructed festive with buildings lit by electricity. Street lamps also lit the streets outside by gas and electric as the exhibition was open six days a week from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Above photo. Exterior of the Music Hall during the 1888 Exhibition, 1888. Courtesy Below: Canal Entrance to the 1888 Exposition, 1888. Courtesy

Canal Entrance to the Exhibition
The overall impression of the exposition by its close by some historians is that it was not really successful, only drawing crowds close to the end when light amuseuments were added. It was said to have rained forty-nine of the one hundred and ten days. And in the lexicon of world's fairs held in the United States, it has pretty much been forgotten. It did okay financially, bringing in about what it cost, although, to be accounting fair, that didn't include the main building that was already there. The treasurer stated that there was a balance of $363.21 left, which likely included a small deficit paid by the subscribers. Perhaps one way to judge its success, or lack thereof, is the fact that after this fair, the Cincinnati series of industrial expositions stopped.

Historian's Perspective

Robert Vitz - "Cincinnati was struggling with its obvious decline as the major city of the West, and saw in its industrial fairs, as well as in its cultural instituions, an opportunity to stake its claim as the "Paris of America," the major inland cultural center in the nation. Since 1888 was the city's centennial year, this particular fair reflected the city's hopes for the future. Unfortunately for the city, it was too little and too late. Since the 1888 exposition was meant to be regional, I can only look at the "national response" from a regional perspective. Most of the nation had little interest in the Cincinnati Centennial regardless of how important it was to area residents. Pretty much a "copy cat" of other fairs and expositions. People in the region (but they are part of the nation) endorsed the theme."

Richard Dusterberg - "Five honorary commissioners from surrounding states, gold badges. Given communications systems at the time. Remarkable. The media reaction prior to the fair in Cincinnati, it was very high. Expo Authority did fine job considering the communications at the time, which was mail. Public reaction after opening day. Loved it, people came back day after day. They took canal, Miami and Erie Canal and covered it, and adjacent buildings, Venetian gondoliers. Machinery items that they had at Cincinnati fairs were things that we couldn't identify today. Amazing thing about the fair was the heavy machinery sitting next to homemade preserves. (Theme) Dramatic. It was the biggest thing going on in that part of the country in that time."

Prior to BIE

Cincinnati World's Fair 1888

International Participants
Nations and Colonies

United States, Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Ontario (Canada).

States that Participated: Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinios, West Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, North Carolina.

Note: It is sometimes difficult to tell whether certain nations actually participated in a significant way. Newspaper reports as well as official publications may indicate participation when actual participation did not occur or occurred minimally. Take the above as a guide, not gospel.

Cincinnati 1888 Guidebook

Expo Tidbits
Capacity of the Music Hall was eight thousand people.

Four ornate bridges were constructed over the canal. The organizing committee wanted them to look like Venice.

Parade was held through the streets of Cincinnati to the Exposition on the afternoon of July 4. The parade route was filled with half a million people.

Highest attendance day was September 28 with 45,487 visitors.

After the 1888 fair and the halting of hosting the yearly industrial expositions, Cincinnati began holding fall festivals in 1900, then a larger display, the Ohio Valley Exposition in 1910. In 1923, there was a small Fall Festival and Industrial Exposition.

Music Hall, built prior to the fair in 1877 and used for the 1888 exposition, still stands today, recently refurbished in 2017.

Cincinnati Music Hall

Those in Charge

James Allison was President, L.H. Brooks, 1st Vice President, Henry J. Snider, 2nd Vice President, L.H. McCammon, 3rd Vice President, E.O. Eshelby, Secretary, and M.E. Kuhn, Treasurer. Architect was H.E. Siter.

Sources: Fair News; New York Times; Book of the Fairs; Cincinnati's Industrial Expositions 1870-1888; TAMS Journal, Volume 20, Number 4, August 1980, Part II, 1888 Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley & Central States at Cincinnati, USA. "The Great Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States, 1888" by Richard Dusterberg"; Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States, Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A. 1888, July 4 to October 27, 1888. Report of the President of the Board of Executive Commissioners; Centennial Exposition 1888 Guidebook.

Photo column top: Scene of the Cincinnati Exposition of 1888, 1888. Courtesy and Pinterest. Middle: Official guidebook of the Exposition of the Ohio Valley and Central States, 1888, likely Expo Authority. Courtesy Pinterest. Bottom: Cincinnati Music Hall, recent. Courtesy Pixabay.

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