1876: Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia

Go Figure what that means:
  • The formal name of the Exposition was the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures, and products of the Soil and Mine, but the official theme was the celebration of the United States Centennial 1776-1876.
  • Are we being told to adjust our comprehension?

I think this 1876 Philadelphia Expo, could be one of those things worth digging into.
  • First of all, I did not realize the buildings were so big. They were huge. In the images provided pay attention to the insignificance of humans in relation to the size of the most simple of the expo buildings.
  • The second issue to raise my suspicion, as well as my immediate interest, was an apparent difficulty locating area photographs. Don't get me wrong. There are multiple photographs out there. Not of the quality I would prefer, but we do have photographs. At the same time, I have this feeling that we are not being shown everything. Some photographs are represented by drawings with appropriate inscriptions, some of which I do not trust.
Make no mistake, this Expo was a behemoth of an event. Well, enough with this pointless intro of mine.

Almost forgot:
Interesting Fact:
  • Expo Duration - 184 days
  • 1876 US Population - 45,166,214
  • 1876 Expo Visitors - 10,000,000. Some visited more than once.
  • Visited by: 22% of the US Population (approximation, obviously was visited by foreigners as well)
  • Average Daily Visitors - 54,347 visitors
  • Whoever wants to play with 1880 US Census, be my guest. For example, 6.9 mil were under the age of 5.
In perspective:
I do understand that today's Theme Parks get visited from all over the World. Allegedly in 2019 we can travel easier and faster vs 1876. From this point of view our 1876 Expo is at a disadvantage as far as the ease of attending the event goes. In other words, for our 2019 Theme Parks, it is much easier to solicit and welcome visitors. It is also (imo) safe to assume that US theme parks get visited by vast numbers of foreign tourists. It was hardly as easy for the foreigners to visit the 1876 Expo in Philly.
In other words, for every 1 person living in the United States in 1876, in 2018 we have 7.24. For every 1 person living in the World in 1875, in 2018 we had 5.65.

Now let's compare visitor numbers of this 1876 Expo with our contemporary Theme Parks. The provided Theme Parks stats are based on yearly attendance. Our 1876 Expo was only opened for 184 days. This is not a scientific experiment. I will divide their 2018 attendance in 2, and call it "close enough".

6 months attendance: World's most visited theme parks in 2018
  1. Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida: 10.45 million visitors
  2. Disneyland Park at Disneyland Resort, Anaheim, California: 9.35 million visitors
  3. Tokyo Disneyland at Tokyo Disney Resort, Japan: 8.95 million visitors
  4. Tokyo DisneySea at Tokyo Disney Resort, Japan: 7.35 million visitors
  5. Universal Studios Japan, Osaka: 7.15 million visitors
  6. Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Florida: 6.9 million visitors
  7. Epcot at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida: 6.2 million visitors
  8. Shanghai Disneyland, China: 5.9 million visitors
  9. Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, Florida: 5.65 million visitors
  10. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, Hengqin, China: 5.4 million visitors
1876 vs 2018:
  • 1876 Philly Expo: 10 million visitors
    • Average Daily Visitors - 54,347 visitors
    • Area - 115 ha / 284 acres
  • 2018 WDW Magic Kingdom: 10.45 million visitors
    • Average Daily - 56,793 visitors
    • Area - 42.5 ha / 105 acres
Area Size Comparisson:
  • 1876 Expo was 2.7 times bigger than 1971 WDW Magic Kingdom
  • 1876 Philly Expo: 22 months
  • 1971 WDW Magic Kingdom: 18 months
    • By the time the Magic Kingdom opened on October 1, 1971, more than 9,000 construction workers had labored for 18 months to build the park, which cost approximately $400 million to create.
1876 Centennial Expo
The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the first official World's Fair in the United States, was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from May 10 to November 10, 1876, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. Officially named the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine, it was held in Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River on fairgrounds designed by Herman J. Schwarzmann.

Expo Buildings
More than 200 buildings were constructed within the Exposition's grounds, which were surrounded by a fence nearly three miles long. There were five main buildings in the exhibition. They were the Main Exhibition Building, Memorial Hall, Machinery Hall, Agricultural Hall, and Horticultural Hall. Apart from these buildings, there were separate buildings for state, federal, foreign, corporate, and public comfort buildings. This strategy of numerous buildings in one exposition, set it apart from the previous fairs around the world that relied exclusively on having one or a few large buildings.
  • The Centennial Commission sponsored a design competition for the principal buildings, conducted in two rounds; winners of the first round had to have details such as construction cost and time prepared for the runoff on September 20, 1873. After the ten design winners were chosen, it was determined that none of them allowed enough time for construction and limited finances.
  • The Architecture of the Exhibition mainly consisted of two ways of building, the traditional masonry monuments and building of structural framework of Iron and Steel.
Buildings Size Stats:
  • Was gonna list building dimensions here, but instead will ask you to pay attention to the building descriptions. The sizes are in there.
Main Building
A temporary structure, the Main Building was the largest building in the world by area, enclosing 21.5 acres (8.7 ha). It measured 464 ft in width and 1,880 ft in length.
  • It was constructed using prefabricated parts, with a wood and iron frame resting on a substructure of 672 stone piers, the wrought iron roof trusses were supported by the columns of the superstructure.
  • The building took eighteen months to complete and cost $1,580,000. The building was surrounded by portals on all four sides, the east entrance of the building was used as an access way for carriages and the south entrance of the building served as a primary entrance to the building for street cars. The north side related the building to the Art Gallery and the west side served as a passageway to the Machinery and Agricultural Halls.
  • In the Main Exhibition Building, columns were placed at a uniform distance of 24 feet. The entire structure consisted of 672 columns, the shortest column 23 ft in length and the longest 125 ft in length. The construction included red and black brick-laid design with stained glass or painted glass decorations. The Interior walls were whitewashed and woodwork was decorated with shades of green, crimson, blue and gold. The flooring of the building was made of wooden planks that rested directly on the ground without any space underneath it.
  • The orientation of the building was East-West in direction making it well lit and Glass was used between the frames to let in light. Skylights were introduced within the structure, over the central aisles. The corridors of the building were separated by fountains, that were aesthetic and also served the purpose of cooling.
  • The structure of the building, the central avenue was a series of parallel sheds that were 120 ft (37 m) wide, 1,832 ft (558 m) long, and 75 ft (23 m) high. It was the longest nave ever introduced into an exhibition building. On either sides of the nave, were avenues of 100 feet in width and 1832 feet in length. Aisles of 48 ft wide were between the nave and the side avenues, and smaller aisles of 24 ft in width were on the outer sides of the building.
  • The exterior of the building consisted of 4 towers of 75 feet in height that stood at each of the building's corners. These towers served as small balconies or galleries of observation at different heights.
  • Within the building, Exhibits were arranged in a grid, in a dual arrangement of type and national origin. Exhibits from the United States were placed in the center of the building, and foreign exhibits were arranged around the center, based on the nation's distance from the United States. Exhibits inside the Main Exhibition Building dealt with mining, metallurgy, manufacturing, education and science. Offices for foreign commissioners were placed along the sides of the building, in the side aisles, in proximity to the products exhibited. The walkways leading to the exit doors were 10 feet in width.
  • After the Exposition, the building was turned into a permanent building for the International Exhibition. During the auction held on December 1, 1876 the building was bought for $250,000. It quickly ran into financial difficulty but continued to remain open through 1879, before being finally demolished in 1881.

Machinery Hall
Machinery Hall, the second largest building in the exposition, located west of the Main Exhibition Building was designed by Joseph M. Wilson and Henry Pettit. This structure consisted of a main hall, 1,402 ft long and 360 ft wide, with a wing of 208 ft by 210 ft attached on the south side of the building. The building occupied 558,440 square feet, had 1,900 exhibitors in the Hall and took six months to construct. Much like its name, the exhibits displayed at Machinery Hall focused on machines and evolving industries.
  • The building was composed of a superstructure made of wood and glass, and rested on a foundation of massive masonry. The building was painted light blue and had 8 different entrances. The length of the building was 18 times its height. Machinery Hall was the show case for the state of the art industrial technology that was being produced at the time. The United States of America alone took up two-thirds of the exhibit space in the building.
  • One of the major attractions on display in the building was the Corliss Centennial Steam Engine that ran power to all the machinery in the building as well as other parts of the world's fair. The engine was 45 feet tall, produced 1,400 horsepower and weighed 650 tons. It had 1 mile of overhead line belts that connected to the machinery in the building. It symbolized the power of technology that was transforming the United States into an industrial nation.
  • Amenities available to the visitors within the hall were rolling chairs, telegraph offices and dinner for fifty cents. Machinery Hall had 8,000 operating machines and was filled with a wide assortment of hand tools, machine tools, material handling equipment and the latest fastener technology.

Art Gallery
Designed by Herman J. Schwarzmann, the Art Gallery building (now known as Memorial Hall) is made of brick, glass, iron and granite. Memorial Hall, the only large exhibit building to survive on the Centennial site, was designed in the beaux-arts style and housed the art exhibits.
  • It was the largest art hall in the country when it opened, with a massive 1.5-acre footprint and a 150-foot dome sitting atop a 59-foot-high structure with a 150-foot dome sitting on top. It provided 75,000 square feet of wall surface for paintings and 20,000 square feet of floor space for sculptures.The Centennial received so many art contributions that a separate annex was built to house them all. Another building was built for the display of photography.
  • Schwarzmann based his design for Memorial Hall on Nicholas Felix Escaliers project for the Prix de Rome published in 1867–69. Constructed of granite, brick, glass and iron, Memorial Hall consisted of a central domed area surrounded by four pavilions on the corners with open arcades east and west of the main entrance. During the exhibition, the building along with the Art Gallery Extension directly to its rear displayed the art of many nations.
  • Memorial Hall became the prototype, both from a stylistic and organizational standpoint, for other museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago (1892–1893), Milwaukee Public Museum (1893–1897), Brooklyn Museum (1893–1924), and Detroit Institute of Art (1920–1927). Libraries like the Library of Congress, New York Public Library and Free Library of Philadelphia also emulated its form.
After the Exposition, Memorial Hall reopened in 1877 as the Pennsylvania Museum of Art and included the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art. In 1928 the museum moved to Fairmount at the head of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and in 1938 was renamed the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Memorial Hall continued to house the school, and afterward was taken over by the Fairmount Park Commission in 1958. The museum school is now the University of the Arts. The building was later used as a police station and has now been renovated to house the Please Touch Museum. The Please Touch Museum exhibits a beautiful 20 by 30 foot model of the Centennial Grounds and 200 buildings.


Agricultural Hall
The third largest structure at the Centennial was Agricultural Hall. Designed by James Windrim, Agricultural Hall was 820 ft (250 m) long and 540 ft (160 m) wide. Made of wood and glass, the building was designed to look like various barn structures pieced together. The building's exhibits included products and machines in agriculture and other related businesses.


Horticultural Hall
Situated high atop a hill presiding over Fountain Avenue, Horticultural Hall epitomized floral achievement, which attracted professional and amateur gardeners. Unlike the other main buildings, it was meant to be permanent. Horticultural Hall had an iron and glass frame on a brick and marble foundation and was 383 ft (117 m) long, 193 ft (59 m) wide and 68 ft (21 m) tall. The building was styled after Moorish architecture and designed as a tribute to The Crystal Palace from London's Great Exhibition. Inside, nurserymen, florists and novice landscape exhibited a variety of tropical plants, garden equipments, and garden plans. In dramatic fashion, the Centennial introduced the general public to the notion of landscape design, as exemplified the building itself and the grounds surrounding it. In terms landscape around it, a long, sunken parterre leading from Horticultural Hall became the Centennial's Iconic floral feature, reproduced on countless postcards and other memorabilia, This low garden enabled visitors to best see the patterns and shapes of the beds from the raised walkways. The building's exhibits specialized in horticulture and after the Exposition it continued to exhibit plants until it was badly damaged by Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and was demolished. As a replacement, the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center was built on the site in 1976 as part of the United States Bicentennial exposition.

Horticultural Hall.jpg

Woman's Pavillion
(built by women only)
The Women's Pavilion, a project of the Women's Centennial Executive Committee, was appointed in 1873 by the United States Centennial Board of Finance. They hoped the Women's Pavilion would generate greater enthusiasm in the celebration of the fair by increasing subscriptions to Centennial stock. Much of the pavilion was devoted to what would be classified as woman's domestic production.
  • The president of the Women's Centennial Committee was Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, great grand daughter of Benjamin Franklin. Gillespie led the Women's centennial executive committee in raising money to create the first Women's pavilion in exposition history. With the help of Gillespie, the women's centennial committee reached their goal of 82,000 signatures in 2 days to raise money for the pavilion, she also helped convince Congress to give the committee more money. Female organizers of the event drew upon deeply rooted traditions of separatism and sorority, as they planned, funded and managed their own pavilion and devoted it entirely to the artistic and industrial pursuits of their gender. Their overall goal was to increase female confidence and choices, win woman's social, economic, and legal advancement, abolish unfair restrictions discriminating against their gender, encourage sexual harmony, and gain influence, leverage, and freedom for all women in and outside of the home. They had to build their own building because they lost their spot in one of the larger pavilions (Main Building) due to a large increase in foreign interest. It only took them 4 months to raise the needed funds to build the pavilion. Their goal was to only use women to build their pavilion, even to power their own building. To which they did except for one aspect which was the design of the building. The building was designed by Hermann J. Schwarzmann. The Centennial Women not only showed domestic production but they also employed a popular means for justifying female autonomy outside of the home as well. They did this by demonstrating to visitors what ways women were making a profitable living. When entering the building visitors found exhibits that demonstrated positive achievements and influence such as; industrial and fine arts: wood-carvings, furniture-making, and ceramics; fancy articles: clothing, and woven goods, philanthropy: philosophy, science, and medicine; education; literature; and inventions. The pavilion also exhibited over eighty patented inventions for example: a reliance stove, a hand attachment for a sewing machine, a dish-washer, a fountain griddle- greaser, a heating iron with removable handle, a frame for stretching and drying lace curtains, and a stocking and glove darner.

Shoe & Leather Building
The structure is 314 feet long and 160 feet in width, and although not ornate in architecture is in pleasing style. The interior contains leather of all kinds – sole leather tanned with oak bark and with hemlock, union crop leather tanned with both substances, and also for upper leathers kip, calf, fine morocco, curaçoa, kid, lamb and sheep skins. The process of leather manufacture after tanning, including skiving, splitting, stripping, edge-setting and burnishing, is shown. The art of making shoes and boots is displayed, including all varieties, from the coarse brogan and plough-shoe up to the most dainty lady’s gaiter or slipper. The manufacture of leather articles, from a pocketbook to a Saratoga trunk, is illustrated, as is saddlemaking from horse and pig skin. A large steam-engine in the centre furnishes the power to run the machinery. The manufacture of shoes and boots by these means is so strongly contrasted with the methods of the old-fashioned cordwainer, who hammered on his lapstone and drew his wax-ends tight, that every one visiting this building is exceedingly pleased. The hall is well lighted. The main aisle is 15 feet wide, two parallel aisles, each 10 feet, running from east to west; they are crossed by other aisles, making 8 main exhibition spaces. Stairways lead to the second floor, which is divided into rooms at each end, and galleries on the north and south, 8 feet wide by 112 feet in length. The roof construction is divided on the cross-sections into an 80 feet span circular truss, and 16 and 24 feet sections, which are triangular in shape. The architect was Alexander B. Bary of Philadelphia; builders, J. H. Coffrode & Co. Cost, $31,000.


Judges Hall
The Judges’ Hall stands on the east side of Belmont Avenue, north of the west end of the Main Exhibition Building. It is handsome in exterior appearance and finely decorated in the interior. It is 152 feet long by 115 feet wide. The towers at the four corners of the building are each 50 feet high, and have been made very ornate. The woodwork on the inside is handsome. The interior is fitted up for the use of the judges and for meetings of committees and larger number of persons. In the centre is a hall for meetings, 60 x 80 feet. In the rear is a smaller apartment, 60 x 26 feet, intended to be used for large committee meetings. These rooms can be thrown into one by taking down the partitions. There are 14 small committee-rooms, and in the second story a comfortable sitting-room. There is much taste in the construction of this Hall, which is painted upon the exterior with neutral colors, judiciously contrasted. Architect, H. J. Schwarzmann. Cost, $30,000.


Smaller Buildings
To be honest, there is nothing special in these buildings, other than human to structure ratio, as far as size goes. I did not find any photographs of the below buildings to get a better perspective. Below you will see some lithographs of the smaller Expo structures.

US Government.jpg

Source - click for more buildings

Colorado and Kansas.jpg Connecticut.jpg Delaware.jpg Indiana.jpg
Proportionwise, appears that everything gigantic. I am not sure whether it is simply my perception due to some skewed lithographs, at the same time everything does appear to be able to accommodate much taller individuals.

Exhibits Plus
I will most definitely need your help to comb through 30,000 of the exhibits presented at this 1876 Expo in Philadelphia. I have no idea where the entire 30k list is at. Here is a twelve-exhibit list to start with:
Below you can see a few I liked:

Centennial Monorail
General LeRoy Stone's steam monorail first appeared at the Centennial Exposition marking the USA's 100th anniversary in 1876. An elevated track extending about 170 yards was built in Fairmont Park in Pennsylvania. It connected the Horticultural Hall with the Agricultural Hall, and appears to have been called "The Saddleback Railroad".
The elaborately decorated double-decker vehicle had two main wheels; the rear wheel was driven by a rotary steam engine of the La France type.

  • By this date it must have been clear that rotary steam engines were inefficient, but this monorail was more of a fairground attraction than a demonstration of exemplary thermodynamics. The LaFrance Manufacturing Company of Elmira, NY had been in business for just three years, and the LaFrance brothers had met Stone's needs by adapting the rotary force-pump used for their steam fire engines.
  • This design clearly solves The Monorail Problem (ie how to avoid falling off the rail) by means of the guide rails visible at the level of the front steps. The square structure at the rear is the driver's cab, with a short funnel protruding, and smoke and steam visible.
  • Some drawings of this monorail locomotive have now been discovered, in Edward Knight's Mechanical Dictionary. (Supplementary Volume 1884). For some unknown reason Knight makes no reference to General Stone or the Centennial Exposition, but simply describes it as a "single rail railway", without naming the inventor. However, there can't have been that many rococo-style monorails running around America at the time.
  • I find the previous bullet rather interesting.

Soils of IOWA
To be honest, I have no idea what this is, but I would love to find out. The narrative suggests that it had something to do with agriculture. I do not really care what Californian Silk Worms were doing in the State of Iowa, but these pillars with balls on top look terribly reminiscent of the suspected atmospheric/wireless electricity poles.

Soils of Iowa.jpg

Iowa in 1876 Expo

Iron Lifeboat
In its centennial look back at the Centennial Exposition, Popular Mechanics recalled the popularity of a lateen-rigged, non-capsizable iron lifeboat on display. It boasted luxuries no one had ever seen before in a lifeboat: covered accommodations for females and children, arrangements for water-saving, mail box, and required no lowering device.
  • Please share its image, in case you are lucky to find it.

Corliss Engine
The unveiling of the Corliss engine in 1876 was the equivalent to the release of the iPad in 2010. The Corliss engine was not just a demonstration piece: through a system of shafts and underground tunnels, it directly powered 800 machines throughout the Centennial Exposition. The Centennial engine towered 45 feet in the air and boasted a flywheel 30 feet in diameter. Its two cylinders, each nearly four feet in diameter, contained two rotating steam and two rotating exhaust valves. The pistons turned a crankshaft at 36 revolutions per minute, and the engine itself was rated at 1,400 horsepower.



Peculiar Fact
This might be London News, but the image description states:
  • Opening of the American Centennial Festival Exhibition: a street in Philadelphia.

I am not an expert but if those are electric wires (could be telegraph wires, I guess) on May 13, 1876 in Philadelphia... well, it could be somewhat interesting:
  • In 1881 the first electric arc lamps, predecessor to Edison’s incandescent light bulb, were installed on Chestnut Street, by Brush Electric Light Company. Brush Electric Light Company manufactured the most advanced form of electric light prior to Edison’s bulb. By 1881 numerous individuals sensed that considerable profits could be made from electric lighting, as well as from other applications of electricity. In 1882 two Philadelphia high school teachers, Edwin J. Houston and Elihu Thomson, established The Philadelphia Electric Lighting Company, a predecessor of General Electric Company, although it did not begin to do business until 1886.
Related links:

KD: Well, the architecture is definitely not as impressive in its intricacy when compared to the 1893 Chicago Expo. Yet, building sizes are beyond impressive for 1876. Makes one wonder, why these elaborate warehouses were demolished. Would like to get some opinions on what you think about the next "Six Months Wonder" titled "Exposition was the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures, and products of the Soil and Mine". The one they want us to think was named "United States Centennial 1776-1876."

Please share your own findings pertaining to this specific Expo, in case you choose to explore any further.

1912 Fire Brigade
36 Year Later

I gotta be missing something in between 1876 monorails and 1912 horses.​
I am from the Philly area and have been reading this blog daily for a month two. One of the things I found strange on my own were the Liberty Bell replicas found at the World's Fair's in Philly. It really got me into this stuff so now that I registered I wanted to share.
First off, the explanation for the original Liberty Bell by the PTB is super lame. From "the wiki": "Although no immediate announcement was made of the Second Continental Congress's vote for independence—and so the bell could not have rung on July 4, 1776, related to that vote—bells were rung on July 8 to mark the reading of the United States Declaration of Independence. While there is no contemporary account of the Liberty Bell ringing, most historians believe it was one of the bells rung. After American independence was secured, the bell fell into relative obscurity until, in the 1830s, the bell was adopted as a symbol by abolitionist societies, who dubbed it the "Liberty Bell". "

There are mulitple stupid account of the cracking, none very impressive, none of them really agree with eachother either. I also could not find a very good explanation for the abolitionist's adoption of it as a symbol for themselves either. The stories about this bell just don't add up.

You can see a two or three foot tall bell in Philly to this day that they SAY is the Liberty Bell but then they tell you a replica (that is twice the size) is housed across the way at the Constitution Center. OK, so all that really says is that the facts about this bell are vague and various.

So I did THAT research because of this:


From Wikipedia: "The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the first official World's Fair to be held in the United States, was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from May 10 to November 10, 1876, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia"

They (supposedly) built a GIANTIC replica of the not very big Liberty Bell, or maybe they just put lights on it. Hard to tell from the articles because they built ANOTHER 80 foot Liberty Bell replica for the 1926 Philadelphia World's Fair.


In some of the pictures, this thing is just staggering...


I tried to trace this out and do the math of how tall this one is according to how big this guy is...I didn't believe my own math so I just kept digging articles in disbelief. Then I found stuff like this:


This is the largest ruby in the world carved into a liberty bell surrounded by diamonds and covered by an eagle. Umm ok.

And this:

I just don't know who made this stuff and why. Abolitionists really liked their jewelry? I'm super confused at this point so I slept on it.

My hypothesis: The ORIGINAL Liberty Bell was a symbol of the society that lived here before us and it was gigantic. The ones they have in Philly are mere replicas of this original enormous bell. I wish I had more references for you but I was just getting into this stuff and in shock at the time. Here's a few more unconvincing building pics to flesh out the story, I think most are from the 80 foot replica.





Thanks for this blog, it's been life changing. I'm glad to have somewhere to post this stuff too! :)

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