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MLA Full: "1893 World's Columbian Exposition." YouTube, uploaded by thebrainscoop, 22 January 2014,
MLA Inline: (thebrainscoop, 2014)
APA Full: thebrainscoop. (2014, January 22). 1893 World's Columbian Exposition [Video]. YouTube.
APA Inline: (thebrainscoop, 2014)
Chicago Full: thebrainscoop, "1893 World's Columbian Exposition.", January 22, 2014, YouTube, 06:57,
Come visit the WCE before September 7th 2014 and check out many of these artifacts, and MORE! This episode doesn't even mention the mummies!

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The Brain Scoop is written and hosted by:
Emily Graslie

Created By:
Hank Green

Directed, Edited, Animated, and Scored by:
Michael Aranda

Production Assistant:
Katie Kirby

Special thanks to Isabelle Heyward and Serri Graslie for helping with the script, and to Si Watson and Emily Ward for the use of the animated Ferris wheel at the end!

Filmed on Location and Supported by:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL

Photo credits:

The World's Greatest Dynamo. Interior of General Electric exhibit From Columbian Gallery: A Portfolio of Photographs of the World's Fair The Werner Company
© The Field Museum, GN90799d_CG_130w, Photographer The Werner Company.

[0:15] Electricity!
Administration Building at Night, from Electricity Building. Large photographic print from The White City (As It Was). Photographs by William Henry Jackson. World's Columbian Exposition 1893.
© The Field Museum, GN90799d_JWH_007w, Photographer William Henry Jackson.

Ferris wheel, [called "Observation Wheel" at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition] and Falstaff Inn.
© The Field Museum, CSA14508, Photographer Charles Carpenter.

[0:20] The Ripe Fruit of Freedom. Liberty Bell made of fruit Interior of Agricultural Building From Columbian Gallery: A Portfolio of Photographs of the World's Fair The Werner Company
© The Field Museum, GN90799d_CG_109w, Photographer The Werner Company.

[0:50] Large colored "Map of the Exposition Grounds." from A History of the World's Columbian Exposition Held in Chicago in 1893. Vol. 1.
© The Field Museum, GN90799d_FMHWC001w.

[1:10] Panorama of State Buildings, from North East." Large photographic print from The White City (As It Was). Photographs by William Henry Jackson. World's Columbian Exposition 1893.
© The Field Museum, GN90799d_JWH_032w, Photographer William Henry Jackson.

Eskimos with Fair planners on dog sleds. World's Columbian Exposition, 1893
© The Field Museum, GN91733_011d, Photographer C.D. Arnold.

[4:01] Three Javanese dancers on a porch on a structure (building) at the Sundanese Pavillion (West Java) Village, Midway Plaisance at the World's Columbian Exposition. Several visitors to the Fair on right.
© The Field Museum, A106224.

Image of Muff made from byssus of Pinna nobilis (lining and filling made of other materials) Late 19th century. ex Ward's Natural Science Establishment (received 1893). Catalog No. 2462 Family Mollusca Bivalvia Pteriomorphia Pinnidae Land Europe Italy Shire Apulia. Sometimes called "sea silk" it is excreted by mollusks

[5:59] Head and shoulders of model wearing "Chanticleer" hat of bird feathers
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, LC-USZ62-61248

The Mammoth Crystal Cave. Diorama reconstruction exhibit Interior of Horticultural Building From Columbian Gallery: A Portfolio of Photographs of the World's Fair The Werner Company
© The Field Museum, GN90799d_CG_132w, Photographer The Werner Company.

As always, thanks to Andrés García Molero, Martina Šafusová, Evan Liao, and Seth Bergenholtz for translating the captions for this video!

Come one, come all, to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition: the Fair that defined the future of Chicago! Industrialization! Electricity! The World's first ferris wheel! A liberty bell made out of citrus fruits! Chicago was the second largest city in the United States in 1892 and beat out some major competitors for hosting the Fair that year. The Great Chicago Fire had destroyed a large portion of the city 22 years earlier, and the American Civil War had destroyed a large portion of the entire United States 6 years prior to that, so the World's Columbian Exposition was a proverbial 'rising from the ashes', much to the pride of many Chicagoans.

More than 27 million tickets were sold during the six months that the Fair was up and running on the southeast side of Chicago. That accounts for about a third of the entire US population that year, not to mention participants from 46 other countries. Admission was a steep $0.50, which is about 12 bucks in today's American dollar. Some were so desperate to visit that they mortgaged their homes to travel hundreds of miles to see this spectacle of 200 temporary buildings housing 65,000 exhibits. Prizes were awarded to exceptional displays and exhibits, and one such item to win acclaim was Pabst Blue Ribbon. People continue to celebrate this victory today with ceremonies around ping-pong tables in college basements around the world. 

Speaking of prizes, one outstanding participant from the fair was Carl Akeley, who you may certainly remember from some of our earlier episodes. In 1892 he was contracted to work on some specimens for this very exhibition. Around that time he was jonesing to move on to some bigger and better things, and it was in 1895 - two years after the fair officially closed - that he was finally hired to become The Field Museum's first chief taxidermist.

In addition to fostering goodwill and happy feelings for America's industrial age and new, novel concepts of sanitation, like fair organizers designing a system to remove the 3.2 million gallons of human waste from the 3,100 toilets every day. Seriously, these are the under-appreciated accomplishments of mankind.

The 1893 World's Fair is also responsible for establishing the first collections of The Field Museum. Part of the reason we didn't inherit every item from the Columbian Exposition, however, is that it was a trade show, and nearly every item was for sale. Many of the early specimens that we have from this collection still have their original price tags, including this $5 plant fossil. It's about $125 in today's money. It's a steal! Don't actually steal it.

Countries from all across the globe brought trade items as bragging symbols to show off their unique natural resources. Displays devoted to economic botany boasted enticing oils, beautiful woods from native trees, gigantic bags of cannabis seeds, all for the purpose of advertising the diversity of their geographical regions, and how their natural resources contributed to the newly developing global trade network of goods.

I should probably emphasize here that the Fair was probably the most significant cultural and educational event in some people's entire lives at that point; books were expensive, public schooling wasn't incredibly structured, and the world was a gigantic place without Reddit or YouTube. It was the first time many people had seen items from another country, not to mention artifacts from different continents. It's baffling to think today that something as intricate as this necklace from the Zulu of Southern Africa was, at the time, seen as 'primitive art'.

The World's Fair was organized during a time in America's history when Eurocentrism prevailed in the upper class, and thus was projected into most displays and exhibits. Judging by how incredibly detailed this artifact is and realizing the intense care and expertise required in creating it, I think it's safe to say that westerners in the 1890s were woefully wrong about many things.

Other cringe-worthy events include organizers capitalizing on the 'novelty' of various cultural groups. They brought in Native peoples to reconstructed villages to specifically have them act out "traditional" life to fairgoers, as if their lives were spectacles to be ogled at. At that time a lot of the reason for collecting artifacts by early anthropologists was to prove by comparison the progress of the western world. Anthropology today is thankfully more about telling the human story, and not about amassing individual objects from cultures without context. Today we heavily focus on working with various cultural groups in order to co-curate collections.

The fair occurred during a time when these items weren't necessarily seen as objects of study, but more as utilitarian and exotic items. Many were seen as symbols of wealth, beauty, western colonialism: everything from large trophy mounts of animals and their fashionable byproducts, to 'prizes' from colonized nations. In these objects we see reflections of schools of thought from the latter part of the 19th century.

Things like meteorites weren't fully understood; one of these specimens, the Elbogen Meteorite, was originally thought to be a bad omen from the gods when it was discovered in Medieval Europe. People in the 1890s obviously didn't have the technology we have now that helps us to better understand our world, but it does makes you wonder what people 100 years from now will think of our way of seeing the world.

Today we are frequently asked how we price different artifacts from the museum, what the most 'expensive' specimen is, and what criteria are used to determine insurance values. Even though specimens may come up at auction, researchers tend to value them in terms of their historical, scientific, or cultural value, rather than assigning arbitrary market values. Plus, by selling items they became prizes for individuals, and their scientific value may never be fully realized if they remain in the hands of private individuals.

These new thoughts about collections and ownership were beginning to take shape at the Columbian Exposition. Other new ideas that were coming to light include notions about the conservation of our natural world. Attendees saw display after display of fancy ladies' hats that utilized feathers from exotic birds, and vast collections of precious items. Once all of these items were brought together underneath one roof, it was plain to see that limits and boundaries needed to be placed on the collection and exploration of our natural world before things went totally out of control.

Even though we've had these items for 120 years, we don't know what we're going to learn about them in the future. There is no way to predict their scientific value in the years to come. Today these specimens remain on display, but only until September 7th, 2014, so make sure you come see them before then, and then they will all eventually be returned to their permanent homes within the research collections of The Field Museum to be studied for centuries to come.


It still has brains on it.