Humanities Time Capsule: Columbian Exposition of 1893

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Daniel Burnham

  • Born September 4, 1846, Henderson, NH, small town near Lake Ontario
  • Arrived in Chicago in 1855, destined by parents for the ministry
  • Attended Chicago High School and studied for admission to Harvard and Yale, but did not gain acceptance to either--both later conferred honorary degrees
  • Prospected for gold in Nevada before returning to Chicago in 1872 to begin work at Carter, Drake & Wright, an architectural firm
  • Montauk Building by Burnham and John Root was first building to be called a "sky-scraper"
  • Between 1873 and 1891, Burnham & Root erect buildings costing upwards of $40 million from Detroit to San Francisco. In Chicago alone, Burnham and Root built 146 private homes and 67 public buildings during their partnership.
  • Named Chief of Columbian Exposition Construction Department

Picture source: Thomas S. Hines, Burnham of Chicago: Architect and Planner, (Oxford University Press, 1974) 93.

See Ida B. Wells Chronology.


Daniel Burnham's Account of the Board of Architects' February 24, 1891, Meeting

"During the entire day the designers, each in his turn, displayed their drawings and interpreted them as fully as time would permit. ... All realized that the artistic honor and dignity of the country was entrusted to their hands. all were thrilled by the instinctive feeling that this was an historical occasion. All were supported, encouraged, and stimulated by the sense of interdependence, and by the firm faith which comes from mutual confidence. It was the most notable event in the history of Art in this country, for it was the first realization of the highest aspirations of a new civilization through the noblest mediums of human expression, Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting. Drawing after drawing was unrolled, and as the day passed it was apparent that a picture had been forming in the minds of those present--a vision for more grand and beautiful than hitherto presented by the richest imagination."

Source: Daniel Hudson Burnham and Francis Davis Millet, World's Columbian Exposition, The Book of the Builders, (Columbian Memorial Publication Society, 1894) 29.
Picture source: Susan E. Hirsch and Robert I. Goler, A City Comes of Age: Chicago in the 1890s, (Chicago Historical Society, 1990) 95.

See Frederick Douglass.


"A White Life for Two"

Frances Willard's Speech to the World's Congress of Religions

"The Woman's Christian Temperance Union is doing no work more important than that of reconstructing the ideal of womanhood. In an age of force, woman's greatest grace was to cling; in this age of peace she doesn't cling much, but is every bit as tender and as sweet as if she did. She has strength and individuality, a gentle seriousness; there is more of the sisterly, less of the syren--more of the duchess and less of the doll. Woman is becoming what God intended her to be, and Christ's Gospel necessitates her being, the companion and counselor, not the incumbrance and toy, of man."

Source: John Henry Barrows, The World's Parliament of Religions, Vol II. (The Parliament Publishing Company, 1893) 1232.

Wells responds to a Willard interview.


Depew's Prophecy for 1993

On the occasion of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893

Two-Party System Remains Invigorating
"There will be one party which will be essentially what the Republican Party of today is and what its predecessor, the Whig Party, was. This party will contain, as its germ, the idea which was at the basis of the party which Alexander Hamilton created. It may be called the party which favors the paternal theory of government--although that is not a strictly accurate description. It is that party which has faith in the power and in the duty of the national government to do all proper things for the development of the prosperity and happiness of the American people.

The other party will be essentially that one which was created by Thomas Jefferson. Incongruous elementa may appear in the Democratic Party, but they will be overwhelmed by this mastering principle of the party, as they have been in the past. As its vital essence, it will embrace the logical and the healthy opposition principle to that contained in the other party. The friction between these two parties will be conducive to the national health. Sometimes the pendulum will swing one way and sometimes the other. But, in the long run, the average representing the extreme view in neither party will dominate the destines of the nation."

Morgan's Prophecy.

Source: Dave Walter, Today Then: America's Best Minds Look 100 Years into the Future on the Occasion of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, (American & World Geographic Publishing, 1992) 85.
Picture Source: William E. Cameron, The World's Fair, Being a Pictorial History of The Columbian Exposition, (E. C. Morse & Co., 1893) 221.


Carles Eliot Norton Toasts
Daniel Burnham

Madison Square Garden Banquet in Burnham's Honor, March 25, 1893

"The general design of the grounds and of the arrangement of the buildings was in every respect noble, original and satisfactory, a work of a fine art not generally included in the list of poetic arts, but one of the most important of them all to America--that of the landscape architect. Of all American artists, Frederick Law Olmsted, who gave the design for the laying out of the grounds of the World's Fair, stands first in the production of great works which answer the needs and give expression to the life of our immense and miscellaneous democracy. The buildings which surround the Court of Honor, so-called, at Chicago, make a splendid display of monumental architecture.

They show how well our ablest architects have studied the work of the past; and the arrangement of the buildings according to the general plan produces a superb effect in the successful grouping in harmonious relations of vast and magnificent structures."

This ivory scepter (c. 1895), with its gold minatiure of the fair's Administration Building, was presented to Daniel Burnham to commemorate his coordiation of the exposition. Charles Eliot Norton, 1878

Source: Charles Moore, Daniel H. Burnham: Architect, Planner of Cities, (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1921) 78-79.
Picture sources: Susan E. Hirsch and Robert I. Goler, A City Comes of Age, Chicago in the 1890s, (Chicago Historical Society, 1990) 94.
Charles Moore, Daniel H. Burnham: Architect, Planner of Cities, (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1921) 88a.

1893 Model Household


President Grover Cleveland's Address

May 1, 1893, At Opening Day Ceremonies

"I am here to join my fellow-citizens in the congratulations which befit this occasion. Surrounded by the stupendous results of American enterprise and activity and in view of magnificent evidences of American skill and intelligence, we need not fear that these congratulations will be exaggerated. We stand today in the presence of the oldest nations of the world and point to the great achievements here exhibited, asking no allowance on the score of youth. ... It is an exalted mission in which we and our guests from other lands are engaged, as we co-operate in the inauguration of an enterprise devoted to human enlightenment, and in the undertaking we here enter upon we exemplify in the noblest sense the brotherhood of nations.

Let us hold fast to the meaning that underlies this ceremony, and let us not lose the impressiveness of this moment. As by touch the machinery that gives life to this vast exposition is set in motion, so at the same instant let our hopes and aspirations awaken forces which in all time to come shall influence the welfare, the dignity, and the freedom of mankind."

Source: William E. Cameron, The World's Fair, Being a Pictorial History of The Columbian Exposition, (E. C. Morse & Co., 1893) 261-2.

Bishop Arnett speaks to the World Congress of Religions.


Proceed to Group II of Burnham Artifacts.
Return to beginning of World's Fair of 1893 time capsule.

A complete bibliography is available from:

John Ramsay
Educational Studies Department
Carleton College
Northfield, MN 55057
jramsay@carleton.edu