Centennial Exposition

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The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the first official World's Fair in the United States, was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. It was officially the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine. It was held in Fairmount Park, along the Schuylkill River. The fairgrounds were designed by Hermann Schwarzmann. About 10 million visitors attended, equivalent to about 20% of the population of the United States at the time (though many were repeat visitors).



The idea of the Centennial Exposition is credited to John L. Campbell, a professor of mathematics, natural philosophy and astronomy at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana.[1] In December 1866, Campbell suggested to Philadelphia's mayor that the United States Centennial be celebrated with an exposition in Philadelphia. Detractors said the project would not be able to find funding, other nations might not attend, and U.S. exhibitions might compare poorly to foreign exhibits.[2]

The Franklin Institute became an early supporter of the exposition and asked the Philadelphia City Council for use of Fairmount Park. In January 1870, the City Council resolved to hold the Centennial Exposition in the city in 1876. The Philadelphia City Council and the Pennsylvania General Assembly created a committee to study the project and seek support of the U.S. Congress. Congressman William D. Kelley spoke for the city and state and Daniel Johnson Morrell introduced a bill to create a United States Centennial Commission. The bill, which passed on March 3, 1871, provided that the U.S. government would not be liable for any expenses.

The United States Centennial Commission organized on March 3, 1872, with Joseph R. Hawley of Connecticut as president. The Centennial Commission's commissioners included one representative from each state and territory in the United States.[1] On June 1, 1872, Congress created a Centennial Board of Finance to help raise money. The board's president was John Welsh, brother of philanthropist William Welsh, who had raised funds for The Great Sanitary Fair in 1864.[2] The board was authorized to sell up to US$10 million in stock via US$10 shares. The board sold US$1,784,320 ($32,603,492 today[3]) worth of shares by February 22, 1873. Philadelphia contributed US$1.5 million and Pennsylvania gave US$1 million. On February 11, 1876, Congress appropriated US$1.5 million in a loan. Originally, the board thought it was a subsidy, but after the Centennial ended, the government sued for the money back, and the United States Supreme Court ultimately forced the commission to repay the government. John Welsh enlisted help from the women of Philadelphia who had helped him in The Great Sanitary Fair. A Women's Centennial Executive Committee was formed with Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, a descendant of Benjamin Franklin, as president. In its first few months, the group raised US$40,000. When the group learned the planning commission was not doing much to display the work of women, the group raised US$30,000 for a women's exhibition building.[4]

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