Historical Highlights

The House of Representatives’ Selection of the Location for the 1893 World’s Fair

February 24, 1890
The House of Representatives’ Selection of the Location for the 1893 World’s Fair Image courtesy of Library of Congress The1893 Chicago World's Fair ferris wheel required more than two years to be constructed, but closed only a year after the exposition in 1894.
On this date, the House of Representatives selected Chicago as the host city for the World’s Columbian Exposition. An increasingly popular form of entertainment and culture, 19th century fairs provided an opportunity to showcase new inventions and spectacular architectural feats. Competition for international fairs was fierce. Four cities—Chicago, New York, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C.— vied to host the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ exploration of the New World. Ultimately, Chicago and New York led the pack because of their ability to raise huge sums of money. Before voting on the fair’s location, Members of the House participated in lively and spirited debate. Representative Roswell Flower of New York—the floor manager for the New York City supporters—emphasized the city’s financial stability, convenient geographic location, and plentiful cultural and entertainment attractions. “As this fair is designed to commemorate the triumph of the greatest navigator of the world, would you have it celebrated in any other than the greatest maritime city in the western world?” Flower asked his colleagues. Representative Robert Hitt of Illinois led the rally on behalf of Chicago. Hitt countered that Chicago’s central location and superior transportation system would make it possible for more Americans to attend the fair. He went on to remark, “The people of Chicago are unanimous, hearty, enthusiastic . . . they are Americans who love their country and will use every endeavor, from the first to last, to make the fair such that every American in the farthest corner of the Republic will be satisfied.” On the day of the vote, visitors packed the galleries. Likened to the atmosphere of national conventions, people lined the streets in Chicago and New York awaiting news on the House proceedings. Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine oversaw the business of the legislative day. The reading clerk informed Members that after answering the roll they should indicate viva voce their preference of which city to host the fair. Although Chicago received more votes than the other three cities on the initial ballot, it failed to capture a majority. After nearly six hours, and a total of eight votes, Chicago finally secured a majority besting New York City 157 to 107 (St. Louis and Washington, D.C., received 56 and 27 votes, respectively). In April, the Senate concurred with the House, 43 to 13. Postponed for a year because of construction delays, the World's Fair in Chicago drew more than 20 million people from May 1 to October 31, 1893.

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