U.S. #728 – Restoration of Fort Dearborn stamp issued for the fair.
US #728 – Restoration of Fort Dearborn stamp issued for the fair

The 1933 World’s Fair opened in Chicago, Illinois, on May 27, 1933.

By the late 1920s, the city of Chicago was looking toward 1933 as it’s 100th anniversary. A nonprofit corporation, A Century of Progress, was founded in 1928 to plan and host the upcoming World’s Fair to be held there.

U.S. #729 – Federal Building stamp issued for the fair.
US #729 – Federal Building stamp issued for the fair

The city allotted three-and-a-half miles of land along Lake Michigan to serve as the fair grounds, which encompassed a total of 427 acres. Because the land was owned by the state, the fair’s architects were pleased to not have to follow Chicago’s strict building codes and were able to experiment with new building materials and techniques. They were also encouraged to explore new building designs, rather than re-creating classic architecture, which had been done in past fairs. The resulting buildings were modern and colorful, dubbed a “Rainbow City.”

1988 25¢ Best Wishes
US #2396 – While the 1893 Columbian Exposition (dubbed the White City), had all white buildings, the Chicago fair’s Rainbow City was painted in at least 10 different colors.

Two of the main features on the Chicago Exposition grounds were meant to provide a contrast by which to measure the city’s progress. A restoration of Fort Dearborn, the original site of Chicago, which had twice been destroyed, stood in sight of the towering Federal Building, which dominated the grounds.

730 - 1933 1c Restoration of Fort Dearborn, souvenir sheet
US #730 – 1933 imperforate, ungummed souvenir sheet produced for the American Philatelic Society Convention

The fair opened on May 27, 1933, and was an immediate success. An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people attended the first day alone. That night they were treated to a special event. At 9:15, light rays from the distant star Arcturus were pointed to photoelectric cells at several observatories and converted into electrical energy to provide light at the fair.

1935 1c Restoration of Fort Dearborn
US #766 – 1935 imperforate ungummed Farley’s Follies Special Printing

Over the course of the fair, visitors enjoyed a number of exhibits and performances, including one from fan dancer Sally Rand. There was also a Midway containing nightclubs where future stars Judy Garland, the Cook Family Singers, and the Andrews Sisters performed. Guests were also treated to a visual history of Chicago.

731 - 1933 3c Federal Building at Chicago, souvenir sheet
US #731 – The 1933 souvenir sheets were created to commemorate the American Philatelic Society convention.

Automobiles were another big attraction. Cadillac introduced its V-16 limousine, Lincoln unveiled its rear-engine concept car, and Pierce-Arrow displayed its futurist Pierce Silver Arrow with the catch phrase, “Suddenly it’s 1940!” However, Packard won best in show with its Dietrich-designed Sport Sedan that was called “The Car of the Dome.”

1935 3¢ Federal Building, imperf, souvenir sheet
US #767 – 1935 imperforate ungummed Farley’s Follies Special Printing
2011 5¢ Art Deco Coil
US #4495 – Art Deco was inspired by the elegant simplicity of geometric shapes.

Visitors were also treated to the Homes of Tomorrow Exhibition, which showcased new ideas in architecture and design, as well as new building materials. Many of the homes adopted Art Deco and other modern design aesthetics of the time. Several firms used the opportunity to display the capabilities of pre-fabricated homes. New home furnishings were also unveiled, most notable, the personal helicopter pad.

That July, the first Major League All-Star Game was held in conjunction with the fair at nearby Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox. In the end, the American League defeated the National League 4-2 in the two-hour game. Around 49,200 people were in attendance.

 2001 34c Legendary Baseball Fields: Comiskey Park
US #3517 – When the White Sox’s Comiskey Park opened in Chicago in 1910, on top of an old city dump, it was considered the finest baseball facility in the world.  

One of the most popular events during the course of the fair was the arrival of the German Graf Zeppelin on October 26, 1933. The zeppelin circled the air over the expo for two hours before a brief 25-minute landing, and then took off for Akron, Ohio.

C18 - 1933 50c Century of Progress Issue
US #C18 – the Baby Zepp stamp issued for the Century of Progress

The fair was initially supposed to end in November 1933. However, it had stimulated consumer spending during the Great Depression, so President Roosevelt encouraged its organizers to open again for a second year the following May. During that second year, Henry Ford (who’d refused to participate the first year, but changed his mind seeing the success of his competitors) had one of the most popular corporate attractions. Another highlight of the 1934 fair was the exhibition of the Union Pacific Railroad’s M-10000 and the Burlington Route’s Pioneer Zephyr. In fact, on May 26, the Zephyr completed a record-breaking 13-hour, five-minute run from Denver to Chicago, reaching the fair’s stage during the “Wings of a Century” transportation presentation.

728//C18 - Century of Progress, collection of 5 stamps and 2 souvenir sheets
US #728//C18 – Click here to own to the complete Century of Progress stamp set.

By the time the fair closed, more than 48 million people had attended. It was the first international fair to pay for itself, thanks in part to the sale of bonds prior to its opening.

Click here to view video from the fair.

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  1. The fair attracted conventions to be held in Chicago. I was 9, living in Newton, Mass., and my Mother attended her PEO Sorority convention in Chicago in 1933. I remember the excitement when she returned and described her day at the Fair. My treasured souvenir was a squeezed-out copper penny with emblems of the fair on it. Nothing fancy or expensive; this was in the depression. More than anything else, the Fair was a shining message of hope.

  2. A great deal of history provided in today’s article. Much appreciated, thanks Mystic.

  3. “light rays from the distant star Arcturus were pointed to photoelectric cells at several observatories and converted into electrical energy to provide light at the fair”.? I doubt that really happened! Even the most efficient photoelectric cells back then (much less the solar panels of today) could receive enough energy with light from a distant star to produce electricity to provide light for the entire fair!

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