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Centennial Exhibition Collection

History Archive - Centennial Exhibition Collection

The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the first official World's Fair to be held in the United States, was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from May 10 to November 10, 1876, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. Officially named the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures, and Products of the Soil and Mine, it was held in Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River on fairgrounds designed by Herman J. Schwarzmann. Nearly 10 million visitors attended the exposition, and 37 countries participated in it.

It opened in Fairmount Park to great fanfare on May 10, 1876, and closed with equal flourish six months later. Modeled after the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition in London in 1851, and the first in a long line of major “world’s fairs” in the United States, the Centennial exhibited national pride and belief in the importance of education and progress through industrial innovation. An additional mission of the Centennial grew from a desire to forgive and forget the Civil War.

More than 200 buildings were constructed within the Exposition's grounds, which were surrounded by a fence nearly three miles long. There were five main buildings in the exposition. They were the Main Exhibition Building, Memorial Hall, Machinery Hall, Agricultural Hall, and Horticultural Hall. Apart from these buildings, there were separate buildings for state, federal, foreign, corporate, and public comfort buildings. This strategy of numerous buildings in one exposition set it apart from the previous fairs around the world that had relied exclusively on having one or a few large buildings.

The Centennial Monorail featured a steam locomotive and passenger car that straddled a single elevated iron rail. Mass-produced products and new inventions were on display within Machinery Hall. Inventions included the typewriter and electric pen along with new types of mass-produced sewing machines, stoves, lanterns, guns, wagons, carriages, and agricultural equipment.

The exposition also featured many well-known products including Alexander Graham Bell's first telephone, set up at opposite ends of Machinery Hall, Thomas Edison's automatic telegraph system, screw-cutting machines that dramatically improved the production of screws and bolts from 8,000 to 100,000 per day, and a universal grinding machine by the Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company. Air-powered tools along with a mechanical calculator by George B. Grant were exhibited. John A. Roebling & Sons Company displayed a slice of their 5 ¾ inch diameter cable to be used for the Brooklyn Bridge. New food products such as popcorn and ketchup, along with root beer, were also exhibited.

The right arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty were showcased at the exposition. For a fee of 50 cents, visitors could climb the ladder to the balcony, and the money raised this way was used to fund the pedestal for the statue. Technologies introduced at the fair include the Corliss Steam Engine. Pennsylvania Railroad displayed the John Bull steam locomotive that was originally built in 1831. The Waltham Watch Company displayed the first automatic screw-making machinery and won the Gold Medal in the first international watch precision competition. Until the start of 2004, many of the exposition's exhibits were displayed in the Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building in Washington, D.C., adjacent to the Castle building.

Still basking in afterglow of its victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the newly founded German Empire foregrounded its arms industry, especially the powerful Krupp guns and heavy cannons that were sold and exported to numerous nations in the following years. By way of contrast, the craftsmanship of France, which had been defeated in the Franco-Prussian War, was represented by the Gothic Revival high altar that Edward Sorin, founder of University of Notre Dame, had commissioned from the workshop of Désiré Froc-Robert & Sons in Paris. After the exposition, the altar was installed at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Notre Dame's campus where it remains to this day.

For Mexico, which was emerging from a long period of internal disorder and foreign invasions, the exposition was an opportunity for the Liberal regime of President Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada to garner international recognition of his regime and to counter anti-Mexican public opinion in the United States. Prominent Mexican painters including José María Velasco, José Obregón, and Santiago Rebull exhibited there. Velasco's work was greatly admired, gaining him international recognition and enhancing his standing in Mexico.

Available Books


Image Name
New Hampshire Building
German Commission Building
Photographic Association Studio
Back Cover
Art Gallery
Glass Exhibition Building
Independence Hall in 1876, Philadelphia
Book Display
Pennsylvania Building
Machinery Hall
Spanish Building
U.S. Government Building
Missouri Building
Ground Plan of Horticultural Hall
Iowa Building
New Jersey Building
West Virginia Building
Ground Plan of Main Building
Ground Plan of Agricultural Hall
Canada Log House
Brewer's Building
Brazilian Commissioner's Building
Pomological Building
Michigan Building
Mississippi Building
Indiana Building
Butter & Cheese Factory
Wisconsin Building
Campbell Printing Press Building
French Commission Building
Independence Hall in 1776, Philadelphia
Horticultural Hall
Cook's World's Ticket Office
Maryland Building
Judge's Hall
Illinois Building
Swedish School House
Ohio Building
Delaware Building
Japanese Dwelling
Shoe & Leather Building
Department of Public Comfort
Massachusetts Building
Ground Plan of Art Gallery and Annex
Title Page
Japanese Bazaar
Map of Centennial Grounds - Fairmount Park, Philadelphia
Singer Sowing Machine Co.
New York Building
Photographic Exhibition Building
Carriage Exhibition Building
Agricultural Hall
French Restaurant
Pennsylvania Educational Building
Main Building
English Commission Building
Kansas & Colorado Building
Connecticut Cottage
Arkansas Building
Front Cover
Ground Plan of Machinery Hall


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