Digest>Archives> September 2008

Lighthouses At The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition

By Timothy Harrison

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It was here, inside the walls of the Government ...

The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, which was held in Chicago, Illinois, was the biggest event held in the world at that time. It was so big that today it would rival the Olympics, Disney World, the Super Bowl and the National Gallery, all combined.

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This view of the main exhibition room in the ...

The Columbian Exposition of 1893 drew 27 million visitors, which was an amazing 25% of the country's population at that time. It took 40,000 skilled laborers to build 14 main buildings and 200 secondary structures on 633 acres of land that would encompassed 63 million square feet of exhibit space. Plus, there were the additional laborers employed by the hundreds of governments and private enterprises that were used to build their individual exhibits.

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This exhibit by the government of New South Wales ...

For this historic event, the U. S. Light House Board, which oversaw our nation's lighthouses at that time, wanted to show off the enormous strides it had made with America's lighthouses and planned a gigantic exhibit. However, the Acting Secretary of the Treasury scoffed at such a great expense and cut the exhibit down considerably, in size as well as cost. The Light House Board was furious with this and replied to the Acting Secretary that it felt its reputation was at stake and referenced the success of previous exhibits at the Vienna World's Fair in 1873, the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, the World's Fisheries Exhibition in London in 1883 and others. Eventually a compromise was reached. Although the approved exhibit was not as large as the lighthouse people wanted, nonetheless, it was quite impressive. The final exhibit actually consisted of two separate exhibits, one inside and one outside.

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Among the many exhibits from various nations in ...

The indoor exhibit consisted mainly of models of lighthouses, a light ship, lenses and lanterns. The exhibit also contained prominent portraits of Secretaries of the Treasury Department, which, for all practical purposes, was self-serving for the Treasury Department and did not honor the dedicated men and women who served the Lighthouse Establishment in so many various positions.

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The indoor exhibit of the United States Light ...

Other countries also promoted their lighthouses at the Columbian Exposition in indoor exhibits. However, the U. S. Lighthouse Board was able to outdo them all, even with the limited budget that was provided them, by building a outdoor exhibit that included an actual lighthouse.

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This Search-Light, mounted on the roof of the ...

The Lighthouse Establishment had a tower that had already been completed in a foundry in Detroit for use as the Waackaack Light Station on New York Bay. But the New York site was not ready, so the tower was shipped to Chicago for display at the Columbian Exposition. The iron skeleton tower, accessible from the bottom by a spiral staircase enclosed in an iron cylinder, was one of the most visited exhibits of the Columbian Exposition. After the World's Fair the tower was shipped to Keansburg, NJ to become the Waackaack Rear Range Light. It stood until 1955 when it was demolished and sold for scrap.

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Lighthouse lenses on display at the United States ...

This story appeared in the September 2008 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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