Century of Progress International Exposition - Chicago 1933

A century of progress

May 27 - November 12, 1933 and June 1 - October 31, 1934


This exhibition was organised to celebrate the centenary of the founding of Chicago in 1833. But despite the decision taken in 1926 to hold this exhibition, in 1927 the new mayor of Chicago, William H Thomson, wanted to cancel the event, under the influence of financial circles, but it was already too late.

So on February 5, 1929, President Hoover publicly invited all nations to participate in the event.

Despite the stock market crash and the economic crisis, the exhibition was inaugurated on 27 May 1933 by Postmaster General James A. Farley, with a parade of 500 costumed figures representing the 40 participating nations.

The theme of the exhibition, "A Century of Progress", was to show visitors the developments, applications and future of science over the last 100 years.

This exhibition was innovative because of its central theme, previously there was no central theme, only an event to commemorate.

So with this new principle the nations abandoned their idea of competition and comparison of their products and therefore everything that was linked to the products, i.e. classification, jury and prizes, was also abandoned.

As products were no longer the focus of the exhibition, many nations focused on innovative architectural ideas or simply tried to reproduce the traditional architecture of their countries.

The site chosen for the exhibition was a 5 kilometre wide strip of land on the shores of Lake Michigan, with 2 artificial lagoons in front of the shoreline; the whole representing an area of 173 hectares.

To get to the site, many means of transportation were used: from trains and boats to rickshaws.

For the construction of the pavilions, the most renowned architects in the United States were invited, with the exception of Frank Lloyd Wright because he was too "stubborn and difficult", to try to design an innovative architecture.

At first, it was decided to build on several floors to avoid extending the area too much and thus to restrict the movement of visitors.

The style of the buildings was chosen to be art-deco, and the buildings were built with metal structures and plasterboard.

As there were no height restrictions, many pavilions took advantage of this possibility and built huge towers.

The exhibition was an amusement park consisting of an entertainment area and a "cultural" area. The latter consisted of reproductions of historical buildings and the construction of a Belgian village with half-timbered houses.

In addition, the village featured a number of folkloric performances every day.

As for the "Midway", the entertainment zone itself, there were many shows and attractions, including the Sky Ride. The latter was in fact a cable car that "flew" over the lagoon. This construction became the emblem of the exhibition, much to the despair of the architects.

By October 1933, the exhibition had attracted 22.5 million visitors, but unfortunately, despite this high number, the exhibition did not make a profit, so it was decided to repeat the exhibition the following year to pay off the debts. The exhibition closed its doors for good on 31 October 1934.