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The Century of Progress International Exposition

(aka 1933 Chicago World's Fair) a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of the City of Chicago

Held from May 27 to November 1, 1933 and May 16 to October 31, 1934, this was the second world's fair hosted by Chicago, the first being the World's Columbian Exposition, in 1893. The fair's motto was "Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms," and its theme was to "attempt to demonstrate to an international audience the nature and significance of scientific discoveries, the methods of achieving them, and the changes which their application has wrought in industry and in living conditions." This was done through exhibits that appealed to the public in general, often with miniaturized or replicated processes.

poster advertising the 1933 Chicago World's Fair
poster for Chicago World's Fair, 1933


A Century of Progress was organized as a not-for-profit Illinois corporation on January 5, 1928, having as its charter purpose, "the holding of a World's Fair in Chicago in the year 1933." To pay for the fair, a $10 million bond issue of Gold Notes was authorized on October 28, 1929, the day before "Black Tuesday," the stock market crash that marked the beginning of the Depression. Another $171,400 was raised by the sale of Founder and Sustaining Memberships, at $1,000 and $50, respectively. A further $637,754 was raised in the sale of Legion Memberships to the general public. For five dollars, one could purchase a certificate of membership, which could be exchanged for ten admissions once the fair opened.

The fair's opening night began with a nod to the heavens. Lights were automatically activated when the rays of the star Arcturus were detected. The star was chosen as its light had started its journey at about the time of the previous Chicago world's fair. The rays were focused on photoelectric cells in a series of astronomical observatories and then transformed into electrical energy, which was then transmitted to Chicago.

When the Century of Progress Exposition opened, numerous buildings and exhibits drove home the message that cooperation between science, business, and government could pave the way to a better future. With the Hall of Science serving as the cornerstone, nearly two dozen corporations, contrasted with only nine at the 1893 fair, erected their own pavilions and developed displays that insisted that Americans needed to spend money and modernize everything from their houses to their cars. Several model homes, including George Keck's House of Tomorrow, featured synthetic building materials and forecast a future where dishwashers and air conditioning would be commonplace household items.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was so taken with the power of the fair to stimulate spending on consumer durable goods that he urged the exposition organization to reopen the fair in 1934, which it did. Roosevelt was not alone in his enthusiasm. Henry Ford, who had insisted that his company not participate in the 1933 fair, switched gears after seeing the publicity that rival General Motors had generated for its products through its working model of a G.M. assembly line. By all accounts, the Ford Building, with its gigantic globe highlighting Ford's operations around the world, was the most popular corporate attraction at the 1934 fair.


One of the highlights of the Fair was the arrival of the German airship Graf Zeppelin on October 26, 1933. After circling Lake Michigan near the exposition for two hours, Commander Hugo Eckener landed the 776-foot airship at the nearby Curtiss-Wright Airport in Glenview. It remained on the ground for twenty-five minutes (from 1 to 1:25 pm) then took off ahead of an approaching weather front, bound for Akron, Ohio.

postal cover carried on the Graf Zeppelin to the Century of Progress
postal cover carried on the Graf Zeppelin to the Century of Progress

The "dream cars" which American automobile manufacturers exhibited at the fair included Cadillac's V-16 limousine, Lincoln's rear-engined Zephyr, and the Pierce Silver Arrow. Nash's exhibit had a variation on the vertical parking garage, in which all the cars were new Nashes.

One interesting and enduring exhibit was the 1933 Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition that demonstrated modern home convenience and creative practical new building materials and techniques with twelve model homes sponsored by several corporations affiliated with home decor and construction.

flyer for the Good Houskeeping Stran-Steel House
flyer for the Good Houskeeping Stran-Steel House

Marine artist Hilda Goldblatt Gorenstein (Hilgos) painted twelve murals for the Navy's exhibit in the Federal Building for the fair. The frieze was composed of twelve murals depicting the influence of sea power on America, beginning with the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 when sea power first reached America and carrying through World War I.

In May 1934, the Union Pacific Railroad exhibited its first streamlined train, the M-10000, and the Burlington Route its famous Zephyr which, on May 26, made a record-breaking dawn-to-dusk run from Denver, Colorado, to Chicago in 13 hours and 5 minutes. To cap its record-breaking speed run, the Zephyr arrived dramatically on-stage at the fair's "Wings of a Century" transportation pageant.

the Zephyr shortly after its arrival at the Century of Progress
the Zephyr shortly after its arrival at the Century of Progress

Of great popular appeal were the Midway, with rides and attractions, and the Enchanted Island, an area set aside for children. Youngsters could slide down Magic Mountain, view a fairy castle, or see a play staged by the Junior League of Chicago. The Belgian Village, which many exhibiting countries imitated during the second year of the fair, replicated a 16th century village, complete with homes, shops, church, and town hall. The golden Temple of Jehol was a wonder of 28,000 handcarved pieces shipped from China and assembled in Chicago. The Sky Ride, another landmark of A Century of Progress, transported visitors in enclosed cars 218 feet above the North Lagoon between two 628-foot steel towers. Chicago-area history was depicted in re-creations of the cabin of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the first permanent settler in Chicago, and of Fort Dearborn.

The hit of the Midway, and in many respects of the fair itself, proved to be a striptease show featuring Sally Rand's fan dance in the Streets of Paris concession. Rand, a local dancer and aspiring movie actress, had a talent for self-promotion and parody. She originally intended her show as a spoof on Chicago's high-society matrons, who insisted on overdressing at a time when many Americans barely had money to clothe themselves. By taking it off, she was putting them on. In the process, she made the Streets of Paris one of the most profitable concessions at the fair.

The first Major League Baseball All-Star Game was held at Comiskey Park (home of the Chicago White Sox) in conjunction with the fair.

Other Information

Not a single dollar of taxpayer money was used to finance A Century of Progress, an accomplishment not achieved by any previous world's fair. Early needs were met from the fees of founder and sustaining members of the corporation. The citizens of Chicago formed the World's Fair Legion, and more than a hundred thousand people paid the $5.00 membership fee. The basis of financing was an issue of gold notes of ten million dollars. No contract was let unless there were means with which to pay for it.

The 1933 Chicago World's Fair was also one of the very few to make a profit, of about $160,000. That profit enriched several Chicago museums, including the Museum of Science and Industry, which also received some of the exposition's exhibition materials for its permanent collections, the Art Institute, and the Adler Planetarium.

The grand total of attendance for the two years was 48,769,227.

The land on which the exposition was held is now occupied by Miegs Field and McCormick Place.

Chicago Historical Society
Encyclopedia of Chicago

World's Columbian Exposition
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Henry Ford
Jamestown, Virginia
World War I
Fort Dearborn
Sally Rand

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