Abstract: Cooperative Progress at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair

Cheryl R. Ganz


In 1833 Chicago had been a tiny backwoods settlement on the western frontier. Ten decades later, it was the fourth largest city in the world. To celebrate the city's remarkable rise, civic leaders and businessmen decided to host a world's fair. Amazingly, in the midst of the Great Depression, this celebration championed corporate capitalism—the very culprit that many Americans blamed for their economic woes. The fair celebrated the advances of science and its application to consumer goods. Unlike earlier world's fairs, this international venue de-emphasized the creativity of individual entrepreneurs by replacing competitive exhibits in thematic halls with noncompetitive and corporate-sponsored pavilions. This paper presents four case studies on exhibit planning to demonstrate how fair organizers promoted cooperation in corporate exhibits, arguing that the failure of these efforts then provided big business with the opportunity to control their exhibit environments and public image through technological showmanship. The origins of this cooperative initiative may be traced to World War I in France.