We're Living In The Future That The 1893 Columbian Exposition Predicted

When you want to see the new technology on the horizon these days, you might head to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. In the 1800s, you went to the World's Fair. The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, Illinois was the fair to end all fairs. The event was so momentous that the preview of the future it gave to millions of people is still being felt today.

Bright Lights, White City

When we say millions, that's no exaggeration. Some estimate that 27 million people attended the Columbian Exposition—that's about 1 in 4 Americans at the time. Named in honor of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing in North America, the fair took place within what was called the White City, a gleaming white 230-foot tall Beaux Arts structure that spread over 40 acres and was the largest enclosed space ever built up to that point. 

But while it was elegant and pure on the outside, inside it roared with the din of machinery. Inventors from around the world came to the fair to show off their latest and greatest. There were inventions that would soon find their way into homes, such as the dishwasher and fluorescent lighting, along with some that might not, such as an early version of a fax machine called the telautograph—a sort of electronic writing tablet that sent a facsimile of your handwriting long distance via electrical impulses.

One such inventor to attend the fair was the famed Nikola Tesla. Westinghouse, Tesla's employer, won the contract to provide lighting for the fair, but Tesla also brought his own inventions. His exhibit included everything from the utilitarian, such as an early AC motor, to the flashy, like illuminated signs, artificial lightning, and a spinning Egg of Columbus.

Tesla's AC motor in his World's Fair exhibit

Look Familiar?

Many of the inventions unveiled at the Exposition are still easy to find today. If you've ever eaten a bowl of shredded wheat or chewed a piece of Juicy Fruit gum, you've tasted the result of the 1893 World's Fair. Pabst Blue Ribbon got its name after winning Best Beer at the event. Ever stood on a moving walkway? So did attendees of the World's Fair, where Alfred Speer's newfangled transportation device made its debut. Even the Ferris Wheel, a classic of fairs everywhere, didn't exist until this grand event.

The next time you stand on a moving walkway or chow down on shredded wheat, just remember: the time you're living in is the grand future vision of millions that came before you. Enjoy it!

Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Content About The Columbian Exposition

1893 World's Columbian Exposition

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Visit the 1893 World's Fair Today!

Written by Ashley Hamer April 28, 2017

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