1876 Centennial Exposition return to home page
The rebellion is over, reconstruction is underway, and it is time for a celebration of the past 100 years of prosperity. More importantly, the stage is set for the most remarkable advancement in the history of man.
Campaigning begins as early as 1866 for an international exposition of art and industry. Leaders of the movement are Professor John L Campbell of Wabash College, former minister to France John Bigelow, Philadelphia Mayor Norton McMichael, Indiana Senator Henry S. Lane, and General Charles B. Norton. The Franklin Institute also plays a major role.
Philadelphia is chosen due to revolutionary memories. A seven-member council is chosen with John L. Schumaker chairman. The Pennsylvania Legislature adopts a resolution invoking the aid of congress with a bill passing March 3, 1871 by the House of Representatives. April 19th to October 19th 1876 is chosen as the date.
The bill provides that an exhibition of American and Foreign arts, products, and manufacturers shall be held under the auspices of the government of the United States in the city of Philadelphia. A
Centennial Commission is to be set up consisting of one member from each state or territory and appointed by the president. The board of commissioners will be in charge of the entire management of the enterprise, without compensation, and shall incur no expense. After plans are in place and a suitable structure erected, the president shall announce the exhibition to the American public and foreign nations.
The Centennial Commission is formed in 1871 with members assembling in Philadelphia in 1872 to elect officers. Providing funds for such a vast undertaking is the source of much discussion and anxiety. The Federal Government refuses to accept any part of the expense. The good will of the public has to be the source of all funds. In June of 1872, the Centennial Commission creates the Centennial Board of Finance. The board is authorized to sell up to one million shares of stock at $10.00 each. The board of finance also sells Centennial Memorial medals struck at the Philadelphia Mint. Sale of stock raises 2 ½ million, the Pennsylvania Legislature appropriates 1 million, the city of Philadelphia 1 ½ million, and several states contribute. After Japan contributes 600,000 dollars, an embarrassed congress provides 3 million dollars. It is now apparent the Centennial is an international event.
Fairmount Park, a large and magnificent 49 acre tract of land is provided for use without charge. The official transfer of the park to the Centennial Commission takes place on July 4, 1873 with the Secretary of the Navy reading the presidents proclamation to a large crowd.
The difficult task of classifying displays is made in order to gauge the size and layout of buildings. Ten classes with explicit names are chosen. The entire world is going to judge the design of the buildings and nature of displays. The buildings chosen are Main Building, Memorial Hall, Machinery Hall, Agricultural Hall, Horticultural Hall, Woman’s Pavilion, Government Building, and State Buildings.
Of particular interest to the mechanical mind is the 1400 hp Corliss engine. Built on a 56’ platform and located in the center of Machinery Hall. The 44” bore by 10’ stroke twin cylinder engine has a 30’ flywheel and 20 boilers. The engine powers most of the exhibits through a mile of shafting.
After the Centennial the engine is used for years by the Pullman company until being scrapped.
Machinery Hall is second in size at 558,440 square feet. The building measures 1402’ in length by 360’ in depth with an iron and glass annex measuring 208’ by 210’. All four corners have one-hundred foot tall towers with the North-East containing 13 chrome bells weighing 21,000 lbs.
Agricultural Hall measures 820’ by 125’ and is separated into courts with aisleways. This building houses animals as well as equipment. All buildings are served by a branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Yale Locks has a model post office
Pullman and Woodruff have coaches as does the Rio Janeiro Railway
Waltham of Massachusetts and Elgin of Illinois display watches and clocks
Gatling and Parrot have displays as well as a 1200 pound Krupp
Deutz has a gas motor factory
Leipsic displays German steam engines
Ghent with a horizontal engine built for the Brussels Mint
Russia displays artillery
Brazil has fire engines and locomotives
Hoe and Bullock printing presses
The American Steamship Company
Westinghouse air brakes
Oliver Chilled Plow has a nickel-plated plow with rosewood handles
President Grant, who started the Corliss engine, closed the show on November 10, 1876.
A 132-page book of award winners is available for download at https://archive.org/details/listofawardsmade00unit