I am in the middle of a Whitman project to create a book on American postcards. In the works for a decade, this will be a popular volume with much general information and many prices. One section will be devoted to world’s fairs and expositions. For numismatists, many of these fairs issued tokens and medals, some issued So-Called dollars, and a few issued commemorative coins. General information is given below, which I share as a matter of possible interest:
Expositions, some of which were designated as world’s fairs, became popular in the 19th century, inaugurated in a significant way by the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations held at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851. Such events were usually characterized by the construction of special buildings, with the iconic Eiffel Tower for the 1889 Exposition Universelle being perhaps the most outstanding example. The similarly named 1900 Exposition Universelle held in Paris was the grandest of all up to that time and today is remembered especially as a showcase for the Art Nouveau movement, as epitomized by the work of Alphonse Mucha.
In 1853 in New York City the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, copying the British event of 1851, was opened in the Crystal Palace. This was not really a world’s fair, but a private enterprise for which the promoters solicited commercial and other exhibits. Showman P.T. Barnum was among those involved. After that time the American Institute and others held shows and displays there. In 1858 the structure, which had never earned a profit, burned to the ground.
The first world’s fair held in America was the Centennial Exhibition, as it was called, in Philadelphia in 1876, celebrating the 100th anniversary of American independence. This was a grand affair and comprised many buildings and facilities in Fairmount Park. The event was highly successful. Regarding the issuance of postcards, the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 inaugurated the release of colorful cards illustrating the facilities. By that time many government postal cards had been imprinted with advertising and other notices, but the Columbian issues were the first to stand alone and require a separate stamp to be applied.
Among important later events the Trans-Mississippi Exposition held in Omaha in 1898, the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo (New York), the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (generally known as the St. Louis World’s Fair), the Lewis and Clark Exhibition in Portland (Oregon) in 1905, the Jamestown (Virginia) Tercentenary Exposition of 1907, the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle, the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, and the 1926 Sesquicentennial of American Independence Exposition in Philadelphia were the most important prior to 1930.
Each of these events of the 1890s onward had officially appointed issuers of postcards, but beginning at the turn of the 20th century other publishers jumped into the fray, including makers of various cards showcasing products displayed at the fairs. Zeno chewing gum put out cards for the 1904 St. Louis Fair using images taken from a set of Tuck cards but printed in America (instead of England) and of lesser quality. Typewriters, automobiles, patent medicines, and others were featured on cards, usually in color.
The largest and most successful of the early fairs were the 1893 Columbian, 1904 St. Louis, and 1915 Panama-Pacific. Certain others did not live up to expectations. The 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo had trouble covering expenses, and the 1926 Sesquicentennial in Philadelphia lost money. Perhaps worthy of mention is the 1902 United States, Colonial, and International Exposition planned for New York City and, in the same year, the Ohio Centennial and Northwest Territory Exposition, neither of which was held.
Roster of World’s Fairs
What does and does not constitute a world’s fair has been a matter of opinion over the years. Can a fair be a world’s fair because the sponsors call it one, or does it have to have recognition by an international body? In 1964 that was a point of controversy with the 1964 World’s Fair.
This list is from Wikipedia. Those with a bold date are official per the Internationally Recognized Expositions listed by the Bureau International des Expositions have the dates in bold type. Those marked with an asterisk (*) had legal-tender commemorative coins issued by the United States Mint:
1876 Centennial Exhibition, Philadelphia
1881 International Cotton Exposition, Atlanta
1883 American Exhibition of the Products, Arts, and Manufactures of Foreign Nations, Boston
1883 Southern Exposition, Louisville
1883 World’s Fair (planned but never held), New York City
1884 World Cotton Centennial, a.k.a. New Orleans Universal Exposition and World’s Fair, New Orleans
1887 Piedmont Exposition, Atlanta
1889 International Industrial Fair, Buffalo
1892 Exposition of the Three Americas (planned but not held), Washington, DC
1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (planned for 1892, opened to the public in 1893), Chicago*
1893 World’s Fair Prize Winners’ Exposition, 1893
1894 California Midwinter Exposition of 1894, San Francisco
1895 Cotton states and International Exposition (a.k.a. Atlanta Exposition), Atlanta
1897 Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition, Nashville
1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition, Omaha
1898 California Golden Jubilee, San Francisco
1899 National Export Exposition, Philadelphia
1901 Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo
1901 South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition, Charleston
1902 United States, Colonial, and International Exposition (planned but never held), New York City
1902 Ohio Centennial and Northwest Territory Exposition (planned but never held), Toledo
1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (a.k.a. Louisiana Purchase International Exposition and Olympic Games), St. Louis*
1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition*
1905 Irish Industrial Exposition, New York City
1907 World’s Pure Food Exposition, Chicago
1908 International Mining Exposition, New York City
1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Seattle
1909 Portola Festival, San Francisco
1911 International Mercantile Exhibition, New York City
1913 National Conservation Exposition, Knoxville
1914 National Star-Spangled Banner Centennial Celebration, Baltimore
1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco*
1915 Negro Historical and Industrial Exposition, Richmond
1915 Lincoln Jubilee and Exposition, Chicago
1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition, San Diego
1917 Allied War Exposition, San Francisco
1918 Allied War Exposition, Chicago
1918 Bronx International Exposition of Science, Arts and Industries, New York City
1918 California Liberty Fair, Los Angeles
1923 American Historical Review and Motion Picture Review, Los Angeles
1924 French Exposition, 1924
1925 California Diamond Jubilee, San Francisco*
1926 Sesquicentennial Exposition, Philadelphia*
1928, Pacific Southwest Exposition, Long Beach
1933-1934 Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago
1935-1936 California Pacific International Exposition, San Diego*
1936 Great Lakes Exposition, Cleveland*
1936 Texas Centennial Exposition, Dallas*
1937 Pan American Fair, Miami
1937 Greater Dallas & Pan American Exposition, Dallas
1939-1940, 1939 World’s Fair, New York City
1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco
1940 Pacific Mercado (planned but never held), Los Angeles
1942 Cabrillo Fair (planned but never held), Los Angeles
1953 (Exposition planned for the sesquicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase but never held), St. Louis
1962 Century 21 Exposition, Seattle
1964-1864 New York World’s Fair (not officially sanctioned by the Bureau International des Expositions but popularly if not correctly considered a world’s fair by most Americans), New York City
1968 HemisFair ‘68, San Antonio
1974 Expo ‘74 (a.k.a. International Exposition of the Environment), Spokane
1982 World’s Fair (a.k.a. International Energy Exposition), Knoxville
1984 Louisiana World Exposition (a.k.a. 1984 World’s Fair), New Orleans
So-Called dollars of the 1915–1916 Panama-California Exposition, San Diego, is featured in the fourth edition of Mega Red, with illustrations, history, and valuation charts.
Larry Flowers says
Thanks for the Heads-Up on the future Whitman book on American postcards. This is a publication well over due. I’m sure your effort in it’s publication is highly appreciated and that the final product will be a great success.