The Forward-Looking Architecture Of The Century Of Progress Exposition
When planning began in the 1920s, the 1933 World's Fair was envisioned as a showcase of American economic and innovative strength. By the time it opened, though, it took on a very different role; providing hope to Americans enduring the worst depression the country had ever seen and stimulus for an economy in desperate need.
It did both with remarkable success. It was so popular, in fact, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt—who saw it as a powerful driver of consumer spending—lobbied the organizers to open it again in 1934. They obliged, and by the time it closed for good in the fall of 1934, almost 40 million people had visited.
Built just south of downtown Chicago, The Century of Progress Exposition showcased the history and future of science and industry, setting out to restore faith that American ingenuity could lead the nation past it economic turmoil. Of course, it was meant to sell things as well. After all, how could the average fairgoer return to cleaning dishes by hand after seeing the new General Electric dishwasher in George Fred Keck's House of Tomorrow?
But organizers also sought to define the next generation of American architecture and design. Unlike past fairs, a central architectural committee set the aesthetic for the expo's buildings. Aside from the ethnological exhibits, they shared a colorful, futuristic design (the fairgrounds were known as "Rainbow City") that included early features of the Modernist movement that would come to dominate mid-20th century architecture.
Shortly after the fair, the buildings were torn down. But thanks to the Chicago Collections—a consortium of organizations whose members include the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago History Museum, and others—hundreds of images of the fair are available for viewing.
Below are some of our favorites, but you can check out the whole collection here.