A Century of Progress International Exposition, 1933-1934

Image of woman's bracelet, brass tray, and compact from 1933 Worlds Fair.
Image of stereoscope and photographs from 1933 Worlds Fair.
Chicago's second time on the world stage

During the depths of the Great Depression in 1933-34, Chicago staged its second world fair, A Century of Progress International Exposition, to celebrate its centennial anniversary. Its purpose was to celebrate the amazing advances in technology during the period 1833-1933 and to inspire fairgoers with the promise of the happier future that scientific innovation promised.

The exposition featured 82 miles of exhibitions emphasizing modern and futuristic advances, spread out over 427 acres on the city’s near-South Side. For a 50 cent admission ticket, fairgoers could see “dream cars,” the first streamlined train, the arrival of a zeppelin, children’s activities, freak shows, ethnic villages, and Sally Rand’s hugely popular “fan dance” striptease.

A strong undercurrent of consumerism ran through the exposition. In addition to the plethora of souvenirs available for purchase, more than 20 corporations had pavilions at the fair with displays that encouraged Americans to spend money to modernize their houses and cars. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was so thrilled with the way the fair encouraged spending on consumer durable goods, which he felt complemented the federal government’s efforts to jump-start the economy, that he urged organizers to reopen the fair in 1934, which they did. In all, more than 39 million people visited the Century of Progress Exposition.

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