May 1, 1893, President Grover Cleveland Opens the Columbian Exposition

The World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair and Chicago Columbian Exposition, was an exposition held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492.

The buildings were created according to Beaux Arts principles of design, based on symmetry, balance, and splendor. The color of the material generally used to cover the buildings façades gave the fairgrounds its nickname, the White City.

The White City

Plans had been in the works for years to commemorate and celebrate the anniversary. Dedication ceremonies for the fair were held on October 21, 1892, but the opening for the public was delayed until May 1893 because of the 1892 presidential election.

(The second inauguration of Grover Cleveland as the 24th President of the United States was held on March 4, 1893. Having previously served as the 22nd president, Cleveland is the only U.S. president to serve two non-consecutive terms.)

On May 1, 1893, this day in history, President Cleveland gave the fair’s opening speech, and then, as a choir burst into the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus, he pressed a gold-and-ivory telegraph key to bring a 2,000-horsepower steam engine to life in Machinery Hall.

“Cleveland Reading Address” [Image from Bancroft, Hubert Howe The Book of the Fair (Bancroft Co., 1893)]

More than 27 million people attended the exposition during its six-month run (the fair continued until October 30, 1893), paying fifty cents for admission.

The Columbian Exposition was an astounding success. On October 9, 1893, the day designated as Chicago Day, the fair set a record for outdoor event attendance, drawing 751,026 people.

President Cleveland, in his address opening the fair, noted that “popular education and the stimulation of the best impulses of our citizens lead the way to a realization of the proud national destiny which our faith promises . . . .”

In this he echoed presidents before him, including George Washington, who advocated for a national university in his eighth presidential address in 1796:

. . . a primary object of such a National Institution should be, the education of our Youth in the science of Government . In a Republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? and what duty, more pressing on its Legislature, than to patronize a plan for communicating it to those, who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the Country?”

You can read the entire address by President Grover Cleveland here.

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