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Cleveland Great Lakes Exposition

Great Lakes Exposition

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Quick List Info

Great Lakes Exposition

Dates Open - 1936 Season: . June 27 to October 12, 1936. Originally scheduled for 100 days, but extended 8 additional days. Open 108 days. Open 7 days a week.

1937 Season: May 29 to September 26, 1937. Originally scheduled for 101 days, but extended 20 additional days. Open 121 days. Open 7 days a week.

Attendance - 1936 - 3,929,229. Unknown whether paid or paid plus staff.

1937 - 3-3.5 million. Unknown whether one represents paid and the other paid plus staff.

International Participants - 1936 - 40.

Total Cost - Amount raised by subscription to fund the event in 1936, $1,115,000. Additional raised in 1937, $513,853.50. Construction costs were $2.1 million. Total cost, including city improvements reported as $25 million.

Site Acreage - 1936 Season, 135 acres. 1937 Season, 125 acres.

Sanction and Type - Unsanctioned by the Bureau of International Exhibitions during the first decade of the Bureau. Suggests a recognized event of Special theme such as those held on the 2-3 year or 7-8 year of the decade in today's BIE terms despite acreage above the current BIE limits for that style of expo.

Ticket Cost - Full admission price unknown. There were additional charges for certain areas of the expo, including the Streets of the World Exhibit, which cost 25 cents adults, 15 cents children.

Photo top center: Postcard of the Cleveland Great Lakes Expo, 1936-7, Original Source Unknown. Courtesy Pinterest. Column Top: Souvenir Travel Poster, Great Lakes Expo, 1936, likely Expo Authority. Courtesy Pinterest. Column Bottom: Billy Rose Aquacade, 1937, Original source unknown. Courtesy Pinterest.

Aquacade, Cleveland 1936

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History of the Event

Streets of the World, Great Lakes Expo

They, Cleveland, wanted to capitalize on their 100th anniversary, as well as stimulate the economy during the depression, so city leaders jumped on the exposition bandwagon, creating the Great Lakes Exposition. It was a nomimal world event, within the first decade of the Bureau of International Expositions when official events began to be sanctioned. It was not one of those, although events, particularly in the 1930's continued to proliferate as the bureau gained standing. There was competition for the exposition market during Cleveland's years. San Diego had extended their event into 1936. Dallas was hosting an unsanctioned world's fair during both 1936 and 1937. Brussels 1936 and Paris 1937 were starting the official BIE World's Fair trot. But the leaders were undaunted by all that, building an exposition around the theme of the Great Lakes along the lakefront, and creating a Streets of the World exhibit area that extended itself to a somewhat international standing. Take that.

The exposition was divided into three sections, the Upper Level, which included Radioland, Symphony Shell, the Court of Great Lakes, Lakeside Exhibition Hall, and the Hall of Great Lakes; the Lower Level, and the Amuseument section. Exhibitors included Buick, Cadillac, Delco Frigidaire Conditioning Corp., Ford, Greyhound, General Motors, Pennz Oil, Standard Oil Company, and the White Storage Battery Company in the Automotive Building. The Hall of Progress housed General Electric, Otis Elevator, Sears-Roebuck Co., United Air Lines, the U.S. Government Exhibit, Westinghouse, and the State of West Virginia. The Hall of Great Lakes was home to the City of Cleveland, State of Illinois, Canadian Government, and the American Red Cross. In the Lakeside Exhibition Hall, Arco, Beechnut, Coca-Cola, Encyclopedia Britannica, H.J. Heinz, IBM, National Cash Register, Scott Paper, and U.S. Steel exhibited. There was a Horticultural Hall, Porcelain Enamel Building, and exhibits from Firestone.

The Streets of the World had one hundred and fifty buildings, many replicas of famous structures around the world, on one hundred and ten acres. There was an additional charge to enter.

Despite a short time frame to get it all together, the three thousand workers transformed the refuse site north of the already constructed Municipal Stadium (1932) in only eighty working days. On opening day, 61,276 visitors traipsed through its gates, and continued to come as Cleveland hosted many conventions during 1936, augmenting visitors. Television was a big draw. Tourists liked the Florida exhibit.

Although there was a $1.1 million loss during the 1936, the season was extended, and another added, as most of the cost had been for construction, and the employment the fair produced, nearly 11,000 people, was a sufficient spur for a 1937 season. There were new attractions, including Billy Rose's Aquacade. Despite its popularity, and harmed by bad weather in the beginning of the season, the 1937 year did not reach its attendance goals. But due to solid financial footing from its backers, the exposition, during both years, was considered a success.

Above photo. Streets of the World at the Cleveland Great Lakes Exposition, 1936-7, original source unknown. Courtesy Pinterest. Middle: Aerial view of the Great Lakes Exposition, 1936. Courtesy Cleveland State Library Special Collections.

Aerial view of the Great Lakes Exposition

Historian Perspective

John Vacha - "Official pretext for expo was centennial of Cleveland's incorporation as city (1836), although real reason was to spark revival of area economy during Depression. Flash crowd of 30,000 showed up for preview on eve of opening. Fair got reams of overwhelmingly favorable daily coverage in press. No overall expo theme, but many regard "The Romance of Iron and Steel" as the key exhibit. Also use of light as architectural element was one of major contributions of exposition. Iron and steel underlaid the economy of entire Great Lakes region. As for lighting element, Cleveland was and is home of the industrial research park of General Electric. 1st season received boosts from appearance of FDR on August 14 and Mrs. Jesse Owens after Cleveland husband's Olympic victories. No funding problems for either year. Seed money raised privately and quickly."

"Press reaction still uniformly generous. Lower attendance for 2nd year may have been due to some of novelty wearing off. Theme exhibit for 2nd year was "The Making of a Nation" which didn't appear to have particular relevance to time or place. Second season hampered by unseasonably rainy weather."


Official Guidebook, 1936, Cleveland Great Lakes Exposition

International Participants
Nations and Colonies

In the Streets of the World - African, Armenian, Belgian, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, English, French, German, Hindu, Hungarian, Italian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Roumanian, Syrian, Swedish, Slovene, Swiss, Serbian, Scotch, Spanish, Slovak, Ukranian, Jewish, Irish, Manx, Welsh, Austrian, Greek, Latvian, Rusin, Mexican, Japanese, Dutch.

In the Hall of Progress - Czechoslovakia and the United States.

In the Hall of Great Lakes - Canada.

Note: It is sometimes difficult to tell whether certain nations or exhibit representatives actually participated in a significant way. That may be especially true with an event with a nominal international exhibit scope. Newspaper reports as well as the official guidebook may indicate participation, whether official or unofficial, when actual participation did not occur, or occurred minimally. Take the above as a guide, not gospel.

Other Exhibit Buildings/Exhibitors included: Lakeside Exhibition Hall, Automotive Building, Hall of the Great Lakes, Hall of Progress, Amusement Zone, Horticulural Hall, Main Entrance. The state of Florida had an exhibit.

Expo Tidbits
$70 million estimated spent by visitors over the 2 years. More than 1/3 of the visitors had come from out of town.

Lakeside Exhibition Hall offered the key exhibit of the fair, "Romance of Iron and Steel," which included a mine shaft.

The Globe Theater featured tabloid versions of Shakespeare's plays, Graham's Midget Circus, Wilson's Snake Show, and the Front Page.

Donald Grey Gardens are the only remnants of the exposition in the city. The Horticultural Building was to be permanent, but the building burned down in 1941. The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame now sits near the site of the Firestone singing fountain.

Those in Charge

Lincoln G. Dickey was General Manager. Dudley Blossom was general chairman of the Great Lakes Exposition. There was an Executive Committee, Administrative Committee, Trustees, Operating Staff, Architects and Engineers, as well as committees for the Horticultural Exhibit, Publicity Department, and the General Staff. During the 1937 season, W.T. Holliday, President of Standard Oil, was president. Dudley S. Blossom continued as general chairman.

Great Lakes Expo Exhibit

Sources: Great Lakes Expo Official Guidebook; "Biggest Bash, Cleveland's Great Lakes Exposition" by John Vacha; History of World's Fair and Expositions; History of Centennials, Fairs and Expositions; La Page Francophone des Expositions Universelles de Jacques Bertrand; Fair News; Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs; New York Times; Cleveland Plain Dealer; Cleveland Historical; WorldBook'45.

Photo column top: Official Guidebook of the 1936, Cleveland Great Lakes Exposition, 1936, Expo Authority. Courtesy Pinterest. Middle: Exhibit of the United States Resettlement Administration, 1936. Courtesy Library of Congress.

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