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Centennial Exhibition, 1876 Philadelphia

Centennial International Exhibition

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Quick List Info

Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition, Statue of Liberty

Dates Open - May 10 to November 10, 1876 (exposition period). Open 159 days. No Sundays. Gates also open from November 10 to December 16.

Attendance - Total Attendance (including staff) - 9,910,966. Paid Attendance - 8,004,274, Total Visitor Attendance (paid & free) 8,095,349. An additional 213,744 were added to total through December 16 (10,164,489) with 43,327 additional paid (8,047,601).

International Participants - 34 Nations and 20 Colonies, according to the Official History allotment of space.

Total Cost - $9,021,849.97, including $2.5 million appropriation for buildings by the city and state.

Site Acreage - 285 acres. 236 acre enclosed by fence with some exhibits outside.

Sanction and Type - Prior to sanctioning by the Bureau of International Expositions. Would be considered a Universal style Registered event today like those on the 0 years of the decade. Was officially recognized by the United States government with Foreign nations invited on July 5, 1873.

Ticket Cost - Admission to exhibition 50 cents. The per capita $ per admission was $0.479, with $.062 spend on concessions.

Edgewater Lake, Roosevelt Park, Philadelphia

Photo top center: Panoramic View of the Centennial International Exhibition, Philadelphia 1876, June 16, 1876. Column Top: Arm and Torch of the Statue of Liberty, exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial, 1876, Centennial Photographic Company. Photo bottom: Lithograph of a birds-eye view of the Centennial Buildings, 1875/1876, H.J. Toudy and Company. All photos courtesy Library of Congress.

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History of the Event

Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition

The Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition is, in our opinion, the least known most important historical event in United States history. Almost nobody knows about it. And why do we say that? Well, coming one decade after the Civil War, and in an era when the United States was not considered a nation on a par with European or Asian powers, the Centennial with its industrial might on display, flabbergasted the heads of state of foreign nations. These exhibits, including Alexander Graham Bell with his telephone, Edison with the phonograph, McCormick with the reaper, Colt with the repeating pistol, and most of all, Corliss with his gigantic engine, showed the world that not only was the nation still recovering from Civil conflict an equal to them in innovation and power, but within two generations, would be the most powerful nation on earth. It's hard for us today to imagine a time when the U.S.A. was not thought of in that way. Prior to 1876, and the Centennial Exhibition, we were rubes without a cube, a backwards colony that recently could not get its act together, in a Civil War that England and France would have preferred go the other way. After the Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition, with President U.S. Grant as President, no nation in the world would ever quite think of us in the prior way again.

And the star of this show was the Corliss Engine. The engine had been around in various forms for a quarter century, but not in quite the large form exhibited at the Centennial. When it powered eight hundred machines in Machinery Hall with a network of shafts over one mile in length at the opening ceremony, pressed into service by President U.S. Grant and Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil, the dignitaries in attendance were in awe. Today you can see a representation of the Corliss engine and other exhibits from the Centennial at the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Above photo. Lithograph of the Horticultural Building, 1877, Kronheim & Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Engraving of the Corliss Engine at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition 1876. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Corliss Engine in Machinery Hall
Of course, the fair had more to offer than just that remarkable engine and even those other industrial marvels that sat in the buildings of the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine. Seated around the two hundred and eighty-four acres of Fairmount Park was the Torch and Arm of the Statue of Liberty, one of the first working monorails brought to the fair by General Roy Stone (cost 3 cents to travel 500 feet), as well as elevators by Otis. Buildings covered seventy-one acres, two hundred and fifty of them, including five main exhibition halls. Thirty thousand exhibitors filled them. How well thought of were these exhibits? After the fair, forty-two freight cars transported them to the Smithsonian. The portion of the Statue of Liberty exhibited in Philadelphia was shipped to New York to wait for the rest of the statue. The original Centennial Corliss engine was tranported to the Chicago Pullman rail car factory.

Ground was broken for construction of Memorial Hall on July 4, 1874, even though financing, due to the depression, was difficult. Getting money from Congress was not easy either. It took until February of 1876 before they appropriated $1,500,000. Fair buildings were complete when the fair opened, along with sixteen bridges, sixteen fountains, and five and one half miles of railroad track. The narrow gauge railway within the expo grounds cost 5 cents to ride and was used by 3,812,794 people. Opening ceremonies were held at 10:00 a.m. on May 10 with President U.S. Grant presiding. One hundred thousand people thronged in front of Memorial Hall. President Dom Pedro II of Brazil and his wife were on the dais, the first reigning monarchs to visit the United States. The main exhibition hall was the largest structure in the world at the time. It had eleven miles of walkways and covered twenty-one acres.

By the end of the exhibition, it was considered an unqualified success, far surpassing the expectations of the government and the fair authority. Beyond the promotion of the United States as an equal to European power, it served as reparation to the Civil War, bringing together the states for an event of national significance, the 100th Anniversary of its founding, the reading of the Declaration of Independence in the center of Philadelphia. It did not, however, do as well financially. Part of that problem was a disagreement on how federal funds would be spent and whether they had to be repaid. The fair authority was a private concern, advanced that $1.5 million by the federal government. In court proceedings after closing, the court said it was a loan and not a grant, causing the private subscribers of the centennial to fail getting their original subscriptions back.

Now, there were criticisms. The London Times reported that many of the exhibits were not finished when the fair opened, and that the summer was hot, hurting attendance. The New York Times reported on the opening that the attendance was so high by the time President Grant came back for dinner that night, all the food at the principal restaurant was gone.

Historian's Perspective
Thomas Prasch - "Philadelphia clearly benefitted from the fact that the fair coincided with the national centennial. National profile was thus very much part of its design from the start."

Centennial Exposition

Philadelphia Centennial Buildings

International Participants
Nations and Colonies

Nations - Great Britain (B) and Ireland (Colonies of India, Straits Settlements, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, New Zealand, British Guiana, Gold Coast, Ceylon, Seychelles/Mauritius, Trinidad, Jamaica, Bahamas), Canada (B), Cape of Good Hope, Bermudas, Orange Free State, Liberia, France (B), Germany (B), Grand Dutchy of Luxembourg, Austria and Hungary, Russia, Norway, Sweden (B), Denmark, Netherlands, (Incl. East Indian Colonies), Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Spain (2 colonies) (B), Cuba, Phillipine Islands, Portugal (B), Turkey (Egypt & Tunisia), Egypt, Tunis, Japan (B), China, Brazil (B), Chili, Argentine Republic, Peru, Venezuela, Hawaii, Mexico, United States. Countries that accepted invitation but not exhibit in Main Building; Bolivia, Greece, Uruguay.

Note: (B) indicates nation/colony had their own building.

A variety of sources list different international participants. Some are listed with buildings, exhibits, and/or as concessions. Use the above as a guide, not gospel.

Expo Tidbits
William T. Sherman, Philip Sheridan, President U.S. Grant, and Governor Hartranft were among the Civil War soldiers at fair.

The Fair Commission published notices of adequate rooms in Philadelphia, including 150,000 in hotels, 20,000 from the Centennial Lodging-House Agency, 40,000 of accomodations with relatives and friends, 13,000 in boarding-houses, 5,000 for patrons of husbandry (Grangers), 5,000 at Camp Scott for military organizations, 5,000 camp in Fairmount Park for military, and 20,000 in suburban hotels. Hotel prices ranged from $1.50 to $5.00 per day, boarding houses $1 to 2.50, Centennial Lodging Agency $1.25 per day, including meals $2.50.

Eight hotels were built near the exhibition. Grand Exposition Hotel, located at the corner of Girard and Lancaster Avenues, was advertised as the largest hotel in world. It was made of brick with 1,325 rooms and a capacity of 3,500. The United States Hotel, 42nd & Columbia, charged $4 per day. Atlas Hotel, 48th to 52nd St., contained 1,500 rooms, housing 3,000 people. Globe Hotel was located at Elm and Belmont Avenue, had five stories, and fed 30,000 people a day. The Transcontinental Hotel stood opposite the main entrance to the exposition with 500 rooms. There were a number of small hotels near 51st and Elm Ave., including the Elm Avenue Hotel, Metropolitan, the International and Congress Hall, housing 200 to 800 guests each.

Largest attendance day was September 28, 1876, Pennsylvania Day with 274,919.

One exhibit on site was "Old Abe" a war eagle that had been in thirty-six Civil War battles.

Art Gallery, Now Please Touch Museum

There are two buildings of significance that remain from the fair. The Art Gallery, which became known as Memorial Hall, at one time served as the Pennsylvania Museum of Art from 1877 to 1928, before it moved to a new building on the parkway. After that, Memorial Hall was used in various ways, including as a school that today is the University of the Arts, and Fairmont Park recreation and offices. In 2008, the Please Touch Museum renovated the building and moved in. They have exhibits and a scale model of the Centennial, beside their children based exhibits. The Ohio Building still remains. It is currently used as a cafe. Two comfort stations for the original Horticultural Hall remain near the Japanese House. They have or are still being renovated for exhibits and comfort. The original Horticultural Hall, which was meant to be permanent, remained until 1954 as a horticultural center, when, after damage by Hurricane Hazel, it was demolished. Twenty years later, it was replaced by the current Horticultural Center.

Those in Charge

Hermann Joseph Schwarzmann was principal assistant and consulating engineer for commissioners of Fairmount Park, and designed many of the buildings. He became the Engineer of the Exhibition Grounds. Major-General George Gordon Meade was a Fairmount Park Commissioner. General Joseph R. Hawley was president of the Centennial Commission. Alfred T. Goshorn was elected Director-General of the Centennial. A separate Board of Finance was established by Congress and authorized to raise $10 million by selling public stock with John Welsh elected president of the board.

Photo column top: Main Exhibition Building and Machinery Hall, the two largest structures at the Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition, 1875, Brett Lithographing Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Center: Art Gallery (Memorial Hall) today as the Please Touch Museum. Bottom: Ohio Building today.

Sources: U.S International Exhibition 1876 (Official Record); Worlds Fairs from 1851 to 1893; Story of Exhibitions; New York Times; London Times; Fair News; Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs by Alfred Heller; World of Fairs; Centennial Guide - Philadelphia 1876; All The World's A Fair; "The Search for Common Ground: British Participation in the American Exhibitions of 1876 and 1893" by Thomas Prasch; Footsteps at the American World's Fairs by Stanley K. Hunter; Official History - Portland 1905; Monorail Society; The Glorious Enterprise; Centennial Philadelphia; Philadelphia, the Centennial Exposition.

Ohio Building

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