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Jamestown Exposition

(April 26 - December 1, 1907) a celebration of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America

official seal of the Jamestown Exposition

The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities began planning for a celebration of the Jamestown tercentennary in 1900. At that time most people expected the celebration to be hosted by Richmond, the capital of Virginia, but the City of Norfolk began lobbying for that honor in 1901, citing its proximity to Cape Henry, where the Jamestown colonists first made landfall. Norfolk subsequently won out over Richmond, and the Jamestown Exposition Company was incorporated in 1902.

Although Exposition organizers wanted all 45 of the then states to participate, only 21 of them chose to erect buildings. Special days were set aside during the Exposition to honor each state and territory individually, including the ones that chose not to actively participate.

Major exhibits at the Exposition included a scale model relief map of the Panama Canal, the Ferrari Wild Animal Show, a full-scale recreation of the Battle of the Merrimac and Monitor, and a full-scale reproduction of the destruction of San Francisco by earthquake and fire in 1906. The Smithsonian Institution exhibit included life-sized figures of Captain John Smith trading with Indians, and the Pennsylvania Railroad displayed an actual 23-foot-diameter section of the East River Tunnel. There were also replicas of Eskimo villages, as well as displays of automobiles, autoboats, electric and steam traction engines, and other innovations. The most controversial exhibit was the Negro Building, which was intended to showcase the progress of African-Americans but which also attracted criticism as a mere showpiece for "Jim Crowism." One of the most impressive displays was a naval review consisting of all 16 U.S. battleships, along with warships from several other nations. The battleships later became the core of President Theodore Roosevelt's "Great White Fleet," which visited ports around the world in order to advertise the glory and might of the United States.

Panama Canal diorama
Panama Canal diorama

Despite great expectations and hopes on the part of organizers, the Jamestown Exposition never enjoyed great popularity at the gate and the Jamestown Exposition Company was left with a massive debt. The site on which the Exposition was held is now part of Norfolk Naval Station, and some of the original exposition buildings are still in use today.

Captain John Smith
Panama Canal
President Theodore Roosevelt

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The Robinson Library >> Exhibitions, Trade Shows, World's Fairs, Etc.

This page was last updated on 07/08/2018.