"You Must See This Fair"

Written by: Katie Cannon, Curator of Education, and Hayley Prihoda, Assistant Curator of Education
August 23, 2017

(The title is a quote by Hamlin Garland, 1893)

On Saturday, August 12th the DAR Museum successfully hosted its first World’s Fair event! The event took inspiration from turn-of-the-century World’s Fairs, particularly the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Nearly 1,000 visitors joined us for a fun-filled day of crafts, games, scavenger hunts, and more. 

Why host a World’s Fair at the DAR Museum?

It is impossible not to admire the grandeur and beauty of the DAR National Headquarters. Walking through the light-filled O’Byrne Gallery and standing beneath the thirteen marble columns on the portico, visitors are immediately transfixed by the dignity of Edward P. Casey’s neoclassical design.  The Columbian Exposition’s “White City” similarly impressed 19th century audiences. As revealed in the photographs below, Edward P. Casey’s 1905 design for Memorial Continental Hall very consciously employed the beaux-arts style popularized at the Columbian Exposition.

The DAR Museum collections, which were established by the Society in 1890, also reflect the artistry and patriotism demonstrated at World’s Fairs. Like the Olympics, these events provided host countries an opportunity to display the accomplishments of their culture and the pride of their people. Such ideas informed the collecting practices of the late nineteenth century, as nostalgia for the past created a renewed interest in early American history and American craft. The DAR’s emphasis on preservation reflects this mentality and helped to establish the beginnings of the DAR Museum collections. 

What did visitors enjoy at the fair?

The activities were all inspired by turn-of-the-century World’s Fairs. Visitors tasted foods that became popularized at the 1904 fair, and labeled with their 1904 names. Would you try “Fairy Floss”? (We would; it’s cotton candy!) Ice cream lovers had the chance to make a batch themselves using an old-fashioned hand crank; this type of machine was invented in 1843 by Nancy Johnson

Fair-goers could test their hand-eye coordination with the kinds of games found on the mile-long “Pike” at the 1904 fair: tossing rings or bean bags, or catching “fish” in a tub. Those inclined towards indoor amusements could try a zoetrope or a stereoscope like the examples in the museum collection. 

Who was at the fair?

The DAR Museum was honored to partner with local cultural institutions, embassies, and museums for our first World’s Fair event. Booths provided by the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, Royal Embassy of Saudia Arabia, and Alliance Francaise channeled the Midway Plaisance, a mile-long section of the 1893 fair devoted to private and foreign buildings. Like at the Columbian Exposition, their pavilions were a hit! You could travel the world in one afternoon by playing board games in Saudi Arabia, identifying spices in Oman, and exploring the Eiffel Tower in France.

Stamp collectors, or philatelists, enjoyed the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum station. Stamp collecting became popular in the late 19th century, right around the time of the World’s Fairs. In fact, the U.S. Post Office Department issued America’s first commemorative stamp in celebration of the Columbian Exposition – called the 1893 “Columbians”

DAR Library staff helped visitors trace their genealogy and place markers to indicate where their family lived in 1910 (when Memorial Continental Hall opened). At the end of the day, markers had been placed all around the world!  A costumed interpreter also provided information about the construction of the Woman’s building, which was entirely managed, designed, and run by women. The Daughters of the American Revolution even had a booth in the Woman’s Building, an impressive showing for an organization that was only three years old at the time.

The event was also attended by lots of Girl Scouts. Scouts earned their Brownie “Celebrating Community” and Junior “Product Designer” badges by completing activities throughout Memorial Continental Hall. For more on our Girl Scout programming, see our Scout Programs page.

The DAR Museum’s first annual World’s Fair event was a success! If you would like to join us for future events, you can enter your email address here to sign up for monthly updates. You can also enjoy more event photos in our World’s Fair album on the DAR Museum Facebook page. We hope to see you next year for more fun at the fair.

Ice cream tastes better if you work for it!

Ice cream tastes better if you work for it!

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Memorial Continental Hall, NSDAR, 1911

Memorial Continental Hall, NSDAR, 1911

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Palace of Mechanic Arts and lagoon at the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Illinois, Library of Congress, 1892

Palace of Mechanic Arts and lagoon at the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Illinois, Library of Congress, 1892

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